Schenectady County

Eco-friendly burials offered at Vale Cemetery in Schenectady

Vale Cemetery was established more than 150 years ago, but the historic burial place is having no tr
The Dell at Vale Cemetery in Schenectady.
The Dell at Vale Cemetery in Schenectady.

Vale Cemetery was established more than 150 years ago, but the historic burial place is having no trouble keeping up with the times.

Mindful of increased interest in eco-friendly burials, the cemetery’s board about three years ago moved to create a natural “green” burial ground in the 100-acre cemetery. Now nearly completed, the newly dedicated space is called The Dell at Vale.

Vale is one of seven green burial providers in the state certified by the Green Burial Council, an organization that sets and monitors standards for natural burials.

A natural burial area is designed to cause minimal disturbance to nature. To that end, no insecticides or herbicides are used, mowing is kept to a minimum and only native plants are planted. Burial containers must be biodegradable, and the only memorial markers allowed are rough-cut or unpolished granite stones that are flush to the ground. No embalmed remains are interred there.

The Dell at Vale is on the north side of the cemetery’s State Street section, where the noise of city traffic is not much more than a whisper. Deer are frequent visitors there, and a hawk has a nest in a tree nearby.

Once a ravine, for years the spot served as a place to dump fallen leaves, said Bernard McEvoy, vice president of the Vale Cemetery Association.

A bulldozer was used to reshape the ravine into a sunken meadow and measures were taken to ensure proper drainage. The meadow, several acres in size, is now carpeted in grass and bordered by wildflower-covered embankments.

Flowering trees have been planted around the perimeter, along with a weeping willow tree.

“Traditionally, in Victorian cemeteries, weeping willows were symbolic of the sorrow of folks who have lost their loved ones,” noted Frank Gilmore, an architect with Stracher Roth Gilmore Architects in Schenectady. Gilmore, who is a member of Vale’s board of directors, designed the natural burial area.

Starting in October, goats will be brought to The Dell once a month to provide an eco-friendly mowing service. McEvoy said goats are happy to eat poison ivy, Japanese knotweed and many other undesirable plants, so they will help keep invasive plant species at bay and prevent saplings from taking hold in the wildflower patches.

An area overlooking the natural burial area will be paved in bluestone pulled from an overgrown cemetery path and an antique wrought iron fence will be installed on the back side of it. A handicap-accessible ramp will lead from the overlook into the meadow.

“The thought was, if there’s a small family gathering to pay respects or have a goodbye ceremony, some of that could be done on this little dais overlooking The Dell,” explained Gilmore.

Dead trees salvaged from the woods at the cemetery will be stripped of branches and bark and used to create a fence that will surround The Dell. Benches will be fashioned from recycled telephone poles.

The Dell has 187 burial plots. They cost a bit more than traditional ones because of their size. A traditional plot, which measures 4 by 9 feet, costs between $275 and $475. A “green” plot, which measures 5 by 12 feet, costs $600, McEvoy said.

Although there is still cosmetic work to be completed, The Dell is ready to accept burials. None have taken place there yet, but McEvoy said he has been receiving inquiries.

Categories: News

Leave a Reply