Herland is hidden away in a private forest located on the eastern edge of the Cascadian wilderness. There’s a modern, paved road that leads to our driveway, but when one leaves the county road, you still have to travel more that a half-mile down a country lane (we steward a 120 acres of forest land) before arriving at the cemetery grounds. That half-mile driveway also involves more than a hundred foot change in elevation, so even in summer, it could be daunting for modern city cars.
One of the improvements we were able to accomplish in 2023 involved a rebuilding of the first portion of the road that leads into Herland. In the spring of 2023, John, one of Herland’s Guardians, came to the conclusion that his battle with throat cancer was almost over. He decided that he wanted to use part of his estate to improve access to Herland. We’re deeply grateful for John’s love and support of this work.
We lived with that a rutty graveled entrance road for many years; now, every time I turn off the paved road, I smile in appreciation of John’s support for Herland’s vision. The new entrance is so nice that our neighbors are teasing us about having what looks like an entrance ramp to the expressway.
That first part of the driveway crosses the seasonal creek that runs alongside the land we manage. First, the road crew upgraded and extended the culvert to meet current county specs, and then they widened the road to twenty feet. Before, the road was only wide enough in many places for a single vehicle to pass; now two cars can comfortably pass each other comfortably.
They also reworked the steep, gravely grade that challenged the low clearance city cars. It used to be that I could easily hear when cars arrived and drove past my home; now the entrance road is so quiet that I have to listen carefully to hear visitors to the forest. And the electric cars are so quiet that they can just ghost on into the cemetery.
John’s donation allowed us to bring in a highly competent crew of local professionals. Soon a set of heavy equipment arrived and they got the work done in four days. The crew finished on time and under-budget, and I can’t say enough good things about them. We look forward to working with Gradeworx in the coming year to continue upgrading the road to Herland.
Now that Herland Forest has been recognized as a 501(c)(13) federally tax-exempt cemetery, we’re hoping to use this winter to apply for grants to cover the cost of the remaining half-mile of driveway. If you know of individuals or organizations who make development grants for innovative sustainability projects like Herland, please let us know.
Part of the vision behind this work comes from the understanding that there’s nothing more radical than a working model of a better way. In this case, we want to show that burying people in a living forest is a better way to sustainably protect forests from development.
In order to manifest that working model, we need the county’s permission and support. In Herland’s conditional use permit, the county originally authorized us to dedicate twenty acres to human interment. Now that two hundred people have committed themselves to be Guardians of the Herland Forest, we’re wanting to put the next step of our long range plan into motion by extending the size of the protected forest from twenty to forty acres.
So, last year, Herland purchased the twenty-acre parcel that lies due north of the existing cemetery. We then went back to the county and asked to have our conditional use permit amended to include the new parcel. The county looked favorably on the request, except that before they would allow us to start interring folks in that northern twenty acres, they wanted us to bring the entrance road up to current county standards. Initially, I think that the county was dubious about whether people would actually want to be buried in among the trees, but that’s changed now that some two hundred people have come forward wanting to become part of the forest in such a fundamental way,
Part of the purchase price for every plot goes into our land acquisition fund. Purchasing the north twenty acres ate up the funds in that account, so we couldn’t afford to bring in the heavy equipment to improve the road. John’s visionary donation made it possible to at least start that work. It’s not complete, but the families of Herland’s Guardians–both the Guardians who have already committed themselves to the project and the Guardians who will join us in the years to come– will have better access to the burial sites.