By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Pasadena Weekly Executive Editor

Better Place Forests launched a conservation memorial forest, Better Place Forests Lake Arrowhead, so those who choose cremation can reserve a protected tree to rest their ashes.

“The idea for Better Place Forests came from my experience with cemeteries,” said Sandy Gibson, the co-founder and chief executive officer.

“My father was 63 when he died of a stroke when I was 10. That was unexpected. So, we ended up having to go to the local cemetery near our home and find a plot.”

The only available plot was close to the road, and Gibson’s mom did not care for that. She wanted enough spaces for her; her husband; and potentially Gibson, his brother and their spouses. They settled on it.

“It was tough, because he never chose this place and it wasn’t a nice place,” Gibson said.

“My mom did her best to make it sound good, but it was pretty obvious that none of us really liked the spot. We hadn’t designed a tombstone before. We ended up with a shiny black granite tombstone that was terrible. From the gravesite, we could see the cars and the bus stops. It’s just not a beautiful location.”

A year later, Gibson’s mother’s cancer returned, and she died.

“For the rest of my life, that’s been their place.”

Lake Arrowhead is Better Place Forests’ 10th forest nationwide, and the fifth in California. Located in the San Bernardino Mountains, along the Rim of the World scenic byway, and just 90 minutes from Los Angeles, Better Place Forests Lake Arrowhead is SoCal’s first conservation memorial forest.

Wildfires are an issue and a direct effect of climate change, Gibson said. The need for a way to conserve local forestland is important. Approved by the San Bernardino County Fire Department, Better Place Forests’ new forest management plan allows those who choose cremation to reserve a beautiful, private and permanently protected tree to return their ashes to the earth and leave a lasting legacy of conservation, he added.

During tours of the property, guests can see the property and learn more about the rising demand for alternative death care options and how Better Place Forests customers find peace planning end of life knowing they’re helping to conserve the San Bernardino Forest.

“On my mom’s birthday, March 1, in 2015, I was sitting there listening to traffic and the bus stop,” Gibson said. “I just thought there has to be a better place than this.

“That’s where the name comes from. This is a place that people would want to remember the person they love. When I think of my mom, I think of a black tombstone. Here, the world is a little bit more beautiful because you lived. I think that’s something that we all aspire to.”

Gibson called Better Place Forests a sustainable alternative to traditional cemeteries. Pricing varies on location and setting, tree type and size, and the number of memorial ceremonies. Visit betterplaceforests.com.

“By choosing a tree, you’re helping to contribute to the purchase of the land from private landowners to the creation of endowment funds to maintain that land forever,” he said.

“Then we restrict development on those property. Each county is different in the way we do it. In some cases, we work toward conservation easements and other places.”

Gibson said he found 80% of baby boomers choose cremation, but they are not pre-purchasing in cemeteries.

“It’s not that they don’t care about rituals and they care about their family being taken care of,” he said. “They want something different. They’re drawn to values like celebrating life or taking up less space and leaving the world a little bit more beautiful.”