3-½ years ago, the conversation began about a conservation burial ground in Mills River. Fast forward to today, and it is hard to believe how far we have come in such a short period of time. In December of 2015, we purchased the property. Most of 2016 was devoted to preparing the land by clearing many of the non-native trees, adding pathways and trails, and getting our systems in place to facilitate burials. It wasn’t until later that year, July 2016, that we had our first human burial. We had four more burials that year and by 2017, we had learned a great deal about the best ways to prepare a grave and guide a family through such an intimate and important process.
2017 was another big year – much was gained and accomplished. With increased recognition of our project, we gave many tours, which offered us the opportunity to connect with people in a personal way, answer their questions, and share our project (which we love to do). This led to many new visitors choosing Carolina Memorial Sanctuary as their final resting place.
In 2017, the gift of Cassie joining our team brought us the world of Marketing and Operations, providing structure and cohesion. Anthony continued to learn more about tending to the land, taking classes about herbicide application, and another class on stone stacking. And our wonderful “On-Call Gravediggers” and volunteers arrived to support the Sanctuary with their enthusiasm and time.
Improvements to the Sanctuary grounds continued: Many more native plants were planted and non-native plants removed. Six benches have been installed, one of stone and the others of locally sourced wood (all from local artists). Just off of the lowest parking level, a water catchment system was created to deal with the drainage issue from the levels of parking above, helping to protect our wetland and McDowell creek from driveway runoff. In early November, we began preparation for a controlled burn, which will take place by March 2018 with the help of the National Park Service.
One of the most exciting pieces of news for 2017 was that we were awarded a $56,000 matching grant from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund. We are now writing a grant to apply for the matching funds. This grant award will cover the cost of creek bank and wetland restoration, removal of the bamboo on both sides of the creek, and replacing the bamboo with rhododendron. Conserving Carolina continues to provide valuable resources and information in how to care for our land and keeps us informed about grant opportunities.
Here we are in 2018!
Our next major focus is the new Grand Entrance – We are working with Mary Weber, Landscape Architect, in creating our entry just south of the lowest parking level. This will provide a beautiful and inviting entryway for guests and visitors who come to the Sanctuary. In addition to this project, other plans for 2018 include:
- Begin construction of our Grand Entry with signage
- Handicap accessible humanure composting toilet
- Composting system to take care of the humanure compost
- Garage to house our golf carts and equipment
- Picnic tables
- Temporary berm beside the wetland to alleviate driving through the bog after/during rain (a more permanent berm will be built after the wetland is restored)
- We’re keeping our fingers crossed that a temporary office can be added to this list.
Anthony, Cassie, and I have fun “dreaming big” with our long-range plan for the Sanctuary. We envision a time when your Sanctuary will hold space for family and community events, including weddings, family reunions, picnics, memorial services, education, theater, movies… the list is almost endless. Future facilities will include a pavilion and amphitheater beside the creek, gazebo on the ridge, overlook just south of our new entry and much more. We have our list and projected time-frame for these amenities; up next is thinking up fun and creative ways to do some fundraising.
All in all, it’s a wonderful joy learning how to care for our earth, recycle our bodies, and expand our hearts to embrace life’s changes. We are grateful for your support and kindness along the way. We wish you a heart filled with grace to carry you through all of life’s gifts, those that bring us tears and laughter. All life’s experiences create who we are. May you receive many blessings this new year.