Better Place Forest

One of the many views visitors will be able to enjoy from Better Place Forests, Minnesota's first conservation memorial forest. It is located outside of Scandia. 


Scandia welcomes Minnesota’ first conservation memorial forest


Before the age off 11, Sandy Gibson lost his father to a stroke and his mother to cancer. 

Visiting their graves in a Toronto cemetery one day, 15 feet from the street, cars were driving by and bus were screeching to a halt. 

“There has to be a better place than this,” he told himself. 

That was the lightning rod for Better Place Forests, a conservation memorial forest. With forests in California and Arizona, they recently expanded to Minnesota, and specifically Scandia.  The location is on 112 acres overlooking Little Fish Lake near the intersection of Lakamaga Trail North and Meadow Ridge Lane. 

“We were coming in looking for larger parcels with high conservation value,” Gibson explained. He added their research showed them the Twin Cities area would show interest in a memorial forest. In addition, to have this so close to the Twin Cities was even more special, they said. 

Online tours will begin Oct. 14 and in-person opening is scheduled for 2021. 

The 112-acre forest is one of the largest within Better Place Forests. 

“It gives you a lot of privacy and your private space,” Gibson said. “Having the idea of your beautiful place feels comfortable.”   

How it’s done

Customers pick a tree online as their final resting place. When the time comes after cremation, their ashes are spread among the tree back into the nature as the spot is reseeded. A marker is recommended among the base of the tree to remember your loved one.

“It feels their journey is complete,” Gibson said. “It’s an important feeling.” 

He loves to tell the story of the company’s first client in California.

“He bought a tree before we even made them online,” he explained. “He put his money down and was one on the first people to come out to the forest. He found his tree and he was happy.”

Gibson said the gentleman recently passed away, but added, his family was at peace knowing he was happy. 

“The first time they see their tree, it’s a magical moment,” he explained. “It’s very nice, very comforting. This is beautiful. A place where your family can come back to because it’s hard sit and stand at a tombstone.” 

Gibson is also a client and gives a good reason for being one. 

“I never expected it but it’s enormously comforting,” he said. “When it comes to your final resting place, you are used to see black, now you are seeing a tree.”

When scouting for forests, variety is close behind in importance to conservation. 

“We want a section that speaks to you,” he said. “Somebody may want something ensconced in the woods, by the water or overlooking a ridge.”

Gibson also expanded on the type of clients they’ve seen over the year. 

Ones that are nature lovers, who planned to be somewhere in nature and to make sure their family comes back. Another group are ones who feel they are closer to God in nature than in a cemetery. 

As of now, more pathways and clearing will need to be done before 2021. A visitors’ center, which will include bathrooms and a small reception is also in the works.  In addition, as part of Better Place Forests’ goal to protect its iconic forests and community investment, the company will also be hiring to manage and care for customers and the land. 

As for its new neighbors, Gibson said, they were all on board. 

“Scandia was incredibly welcoming,” he said. “The permit was smooth.” 

Added Mayor Christine Maefsky: “I love the idea of Better Place Forests and what they will bring to the families and friends within our community. Not only will their forest help maintain our land and all of its natural beauty; what they offer is a beautiful legacy of protecting nature and its biodiversity. The St. Croix River Valley is known for its pristine natural landscapes and charm. I’m glad that Better Place Forests is her to provide a natural and beautiful way of commemorating one’s life that ultimately helps us protect our forestland.”

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