Birds of a feather flock together. So it should come as no surprise when the bird-lovers with the Audubon Society gather to hear more about green burials.
That will be the environmentally conscious topic tonight when Pete McQuillin, founder and owner of Penn Forest Natural Burial Park, takes part in the Audubon Speaker Series at Beechwood Farms in Fox Chapel.
Green cemeteries are catching on across the country as more people embrace burials that have little impact on the environment. No boxes, no chemicals. It's kind of like the last act of recycling.
Mr. McQuillin began his project in January 2008, when he formed Green Burial Pittsburgh with the intention of planting people among the plants in property he acquired adjoining Penn Hills Community Park. The 32 acres is mostly wooded, though there is a large grassy meadow and walking trails for birders.
"It's in bad shape from a forest point of view," he said. "There are a lot of invasives that have come in. The ash trees are dying from the emerald ash borer. It was neglected for many, many years, and we're working slowly on fixing all that."
The zoning approval for the cemetery came in May 2011.
"We got a little resistance from politicians who thought it might cost them votes," Mr. McQuillin said. "But it turned out that we went through four public hearings and we only had one person who spoke against it. And I met with her for a cup of coffee and got her questions answered and she's never come back."
The first burial was undertaken in August 2011 and there currently are five people who have made their resting place a restful place amid the trees and trails of Penn Forest Natural Burial Park. Almost 100 more people have purchased plots.
"We zoned 10 acres of the 32 as a wildlife refuge, so we'll never have burials in that area," Mr. McQuillin said. "We figure that over a hundred years we could bury 14,000. Right now, we've got about 1,400 laid out. And we're going to open a Jewish section with about 1,500.
"I'd also like to do an apiary, community gardens, some art in the wood projects. You name it. I've got a thousand ideas and no money."
At the moment, only one grave has a marker. There are restrictions on markers, so you shouldn't expect Penn Forest Natural Burial Park to end up looking like all those other cemeteries.
"If you go on our website, you can look up somebody's name and go to Google maps and zoom in right on somebody's grave," Mr. McQuillin said.
See? "Natural" doesn't necessarily mean "old-fashioned." There's cutting-edge technology involved here.
That's part of the message Mr. McQuillin aims to spread.
"I talk about green burial as a concept," he said of his intended session tonight. "I talk about us. I show a lot of pictures of our place and I answer questions. Usually, I get lots and lots of questions."
But it doesn't devolve into a sales pitch for the last time-share.
"Not at all," he promised. "I don't sell. People have to want to buy. Most people who do are into environmental causes. People like the idea, once they find out about it."
Still, not everyone is on board. Most funeral home directors, for example, tend to steer people away from natural burials, he said. And he's had trouble tying into the high-profile push for more environmentally aware businesses.
"Pittsburgh talks about being a green city, but nobody wants to talk about death," Mr. McQuillin said.
Well, he does. And he'll be doing it tonight from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Beechwood Farms, 614 Dorseyville Road, Fox Chapel.
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at email@example.com or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/