Green burials planned for state parks

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Coffins and tombstones are not for everyone. Just ask the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It is now working toward a pilot project to bury the dead in state parks.

"I have never liked the idea of being pumped full of formaldehyde and stuffed in a plastic box,” said Ted Hollingsworth, director of land conservation at TPWD. “I never have, so I could see being a participant at some point."

Hollingsworth said the agency began a trial agreement with the Green Burial Council in 2009 to become the first state government in the nation to be involved in such a partnership. That agreement has since expired, but the two groups remain in talks for the future.

During that time, Hollingsworth said Texans have shown plenty of interest in green burials. Conservation and “returning to nature” are the answers he hears most.

"Typically, it involves burial in a wooden box or a cardboard box or a canvas shroud, with no chemicals,” he explained. “No embalming or other fluids."

There is no set plan at this time, but he said a likely scenario would involve land adjacent to a state park. In a tight budget time, expanding the area of a park is not really an option for the agency, unless it has an alternative like this.

"We wouldn't own or manage the cemetery, but where people pay for those burials a certain part of that payment takes out that land, and pays for that land, that then does get added to the state park,” he said.

That would take partnering with death service providers or funeral directors. Such programs exist in other parts of the country, but not directly with a state agency.

In Texas, it is already legal to scatter a loved one’s ashes in state parks, but only in designated, undeveloped areas. The green burial project is a similar concept – what Hollingsworth envisions as someday becoming part of a park’s landscape.

"Makes more habitat for turkey, quail, deer, snakes, lizards,” he said. “Makes more room for trails, picnic areas, all of that. Where we have opportunities to add land, especially not at the cost of the taxpayers, we want to explore those."

However, he said bodies would not be near campsites – a relief for regulars like Dave and Kanita Riggle.

"As long as it's in areas that didn't affect our being to come here and enjoy it,” Kanita said.

The married couple spends four months of the year on the road in their camper going from state park to state park. They are now stopped in McKinney Falls State Park outside Austin.

"Ever since I was 18 years old, I hunted out in the woods and everything, and I just love it,” Dave said when asked about green burials. “Everything needs to go back to nature."

With his mind previously set on cremation, the idea of a state park as a final resting place suddenly sounded appealing.

"I'm going to learn more about it now,” he said.

But McKinney Falls State Park probably would not be an option for him. Hollingsworth said there is no free land surrounding the park.

However, the agency would eventually target parks near urban areas to save that land from development. The green burial program is likely still a few years away from launching.

“We're still exploring the best ways to do that,” Hollingsworth said.

Copyright 2014 KXAN TV. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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