Montague Cemetery Commission dedicating town’s first green burial site

Judith Lorei and Mary Kay Mattiace of the Montague Cemetery Commission at the new Highland Woods Natural Burial Ground at the rear of Highland Cemetery on Millers Falls Road.

Judith Lorei and Mary Kay Mattiace of the Montague Cemetery Commission at the new Highland Woods Natural Burial Ground at the rear of Highland Cemetery on Millers Falls Road. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Judith Lorei of the Montague Cemetery Commission with a willow burial basket made by Mary Lauren Fraser of Turners Falls at Highland Woods Natural Burial Ground on Millers Falls Road.

Judith Lorei of the Montague Cemetery Commission with a willow burial basket made by Mary Lauren Fraser of Turners Falls at Highland Woods Natural Burial Ground on Millers Falls Road. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

The first grave marked by a flat natural stone at Highland Woods Natural Burial Ground at the rear of Highland Cemetery off Millers Falls Road.

The first grave marked by a flat natural stone at Highland Woods Natural Burial Ground at the rear of Highland Cemetery off Millers Falls Road. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

A path™ winds through the pines at Highland Woods Natural Burial Ground on Millers Falls Road.

A path™ winds through the pines at Highland Woods Natural Burial Ground on Millers Falls Road. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 04-25-2024 5:57 PM

MONTAGUE — Judith Lorei, a member of the town’s Cemetery Commission, says residents have been asking about green burial options for years, but there was no cemetery in town that allowed it.

That is, until now.

On Saturday at 10 a.m., the Cemetery Commission invites the public to the dedication of the Highland Woods Natural Burial Ground. Three acres of the land at the town-owned Highland Cemetery at 398 Millers Falls Road will be used for green burials, which entail safer practices and no chemicals or concrete.

“People do it for different reasons,” Lorei said of green burials. “The idea of having simpler, more environmentally-friendly burials ... appeals to some people.”

The dedication, which will include a grand opening and tour, will be held rain or shine. Lorei said she will speak at the dedication. David Brule, leader of the Nolumbeka Project, will deliver a land acknowledgment and a group of singers will perform.

Amber Korby, hired earlier this month as the cemetery’s sexton, said Saturday’s dedication is the culmination of a decade of work conducted by Lorei and others. A cemetery sexton coordinates burials.

Lorei explained green burials are more environmentally-friendly because the bodies are not embalmed and the graves do not have liners or concrete vaults. Also, the deceased is always shrouded in cloth or placed in a biodegradable coffin or casket. Lorei also mentioned any headstone is made of unpolished material.

The cost for burials at Highland Woods is $700 for Montague residents and $1,000 for non-residents. Lorei said 17 plots have been sold so far and there has already been one burial. The commission is planning for low-density burial of 50 bodies per acre.

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Lorei, who as been on the commission for about 10 years, was involved in the founding of Green Burial Massachusetts, an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit that aims to educate the public on natural burial options. She also apprenticed as a funeral director.

Although Highland Woods marks the first green burial site in Montague, it is not the first natural burial ground in Franklin County, as there are a handful of them, according to Lorei. Riverside Woods Natural Burial Ground in Gill is the nearest cemetery that allows green burials.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.