Since the prairie is one of the most neglected ecosystems in the United States, true prairie in its pristine state is rare. We have a plan to reverse this trend by combining a natural cemetery with a wildlife refuge. The two land uses dovetail perfectly. The cemetery raises money and protects the nature preserve, while the wildlife sanctuary fulfills the human desire to leave a legacy and serves our need to protect what we love.
40 acres would be optimal for our first cemetery, but no matter how small we start, we will grow. When we start selling burial rights with a lifetime membership to the sanctuary, we will pool the money and divide it into three carefully invested trust funds: the perpetual care trust fund, the capital improvement trust fund, and the land purchase trust fund. The first cemetery will focus on being a bird sanctuary and need very little in the way of expensive maintenance or improvement. This will allow the trust funds to grow until the cemetery can finance its improvements and expansion from the earnings on the trust funds. This is very important to our long- range goal because a complete prairie ecosystem must be vast to include all the species that are necessary. The two most important, a free ranging buffalo herd and prairie dog towns, require a huge amount of territory and protection. As keystone species, they help many other animals survive by creating habitat and providing food. (*See descriptions on the next page).
Two demographic trends and a movement make this plan feasible. The first demographic trend is that people are fleeing the high plains leaving an economic void that we can help fill by bringing jobs and tourism out to eastern Colorado. Drs. Frank and Deborah Potter started the movement in 1987, wanting to start a conversation on the future of the Great Plains. They succeeded in sparking a lively debate. The Potters proposed giving parts of the plains back to the buffalo as a new economic model, and called their idea the Buffalo Commons, which can be read about at www.planning.org/25anniversary/planning/1987dec.htm. Buffalo have been making a comeback on the prairie and the seeds the Potters planted are still growing. There are at least two organizations with their main goal to be the making of the Buffalo Commons concept real. The Great Plains Restoration Council at www.gprc.org/Buffalo_Commons.html and the Northern Plains Conservation Network at www.npcn.net are both working to join scattered pockets of public grasslands into a greater whole capable of supporting a complete short grass prairie ecosystem. Prairie Wilderness Cemeteries will buy land strategically to help connect the pieces.
The second demographic trend is the life stage that 70 million baby boomers are entering with their well-known society changing ways. Tradition tends to get bent, if not blown up, when the boomers come through and the funeral is shaping up to be more of the same. Nontraditional cemeteries are just starting to appear; there are about 200 of them in Great Britain and four in the United States according to the April 2003 issue of The Mother Earth News. Our cemetery will appeal to a large segment of the population and we will cater to their needs and desires as much as possible. Some of the groups that will be thrilled to escape the traditional cemetery/funeral home con game include preservationists, environmentalists, animal rights activists, avid campers, hunters, bird watchers, naturalists, cheap skates, conservationists, do it yourself people and those who just plain want to control how they are buried.
This project is necessary now to counter balance the development of rural America. The Land Trust Alliance reports that millions of acres are lost every year to development. They estimate that in 20 years only the crumbs will be left. Our pilot project can help stem this tide. Once we show that a thoughtful choice of final resting spot can protect our open spaces and wildlife, nontraditional graveyards will spring up next to many cities, where they are needed most. We picked Denver, prairie and buffalo to get national attention for this new way to raise money for conservation. If the words above struck a chord in your heart, we urge you to join us to free the buffalo back into the heartland of America. We are just now building the management team to make this dream real and are seeking board members, allies, donors, and volunteers. As we grow, some of the volunteer positions will become paid positions.
Prairie Wilderness Cemeteries will require natural or ‘green’ burial. No embalming, no hardwood caskets, nor underground vaults. Good for the earth, and good for the pocketbook. Instead of a headstone, the entire natural sanctuary will be your monument. As soon as possible, we will have a memorial center where plaques listing name, date of birth and other important information can be mounted. For those who wish, we will store on disk and paper their life histories and make them available to future generations.
For more information, see our contacts page for the way to reach us.