Puyallup Herald

Sumner Cemetery markets unique features as others in Pierce County run out of space

You think finding a place to live is difficult in Pierce County these days, try finding a place to be buried after you die.

Cemeteries are running out of space and are finding it difficult to expand, especially in urbanized areas like Tacoma. Even with many Washingtonians choosing cremations, real estate is hard to come by.

“It’s true, finding land is an issue for cemeteries, but that’s across the nation,” said John McNamara, spokesman for Oakwood Hill cemetery in Tacoma. “Not everybody wants a cemetery in their backyard.”

Against that backdrop, Sumner’s cemetery is marketing its 10 undeveloped acres as a final resting place.

It is looking to fill its land creatively. Loved ones can be buried in coffee cans or tobacco boxes, composted as fertilizer for the hops and rhubarb, or commemorated with a simple plaque.

Many of the seven cemeteries in the area are already full or about to be.

Opening a new cemetery is next to impossible, said McNamara, whose cemetery sells five to 10 plots a year. Planning restrictions and obtaining permitting can be barriers for new sites, he said.

Tacoma land-use codes limit new graveyards. No new ones have been approved since 1975, and the two cemeteries within city limits have not expanded, spokeswoman Stacy Ellifritt said.

“Cemeteries in Tacoma are begging for property,” said Craig Hudson, director of Mountain View Cemetery. “They are landlocked and screaming for land.”

Not so in Sumner.

The cemetery there stretches along Valley Avenue East, with cherry and apple orchards, a vintage tractor and garden-filled grounds.

Scott DeCarteret with the Sumner Cemetery said after-life options are trending outside of cremation and burial, and the Sumner Cemetery is trying to meet those demands.

One can be buried in a pod in a tree trunk, have his or her remains stored in a seedling with a biodegradable urn or be transformed into glass-blown art or a pencil.

“Nothing south of Kirkland offers you green options. Earth to earth, no casket, no embalming,” DeCarteret said.

DeCarteret recommends, whatever options loved ones choose, that people retain a tangible piece to remember the departed by. Many people who choose to spread their loved one’s ashes across favorite spots like Mount Rainier later regret not having a place to commemorate them, he said.

“People want to have something to visit. Generations down the line, they want to be able to have the hair stand up on the back of their head,” DeCarteret said. “That’s a real feeling, a real emotion. So what’s happening is people don’t have that feeling anymore.”

Josephine Peterson covers Pierce County and Puyallup for The News Tribune and The Puyallup Herald. She previously worked at The News Journal in Delaware as the crime reporter and interned at The Washington Post.