With cremations on the rise, the Grand County Cemetery Maintenance District will soon offer an alternative to ground burials. The plan is to purchase a columbarium, an above-ground structure in which urns and ashes can be placed.
“[This is] another option for the public because cremation is really becoming the way people are going in burials,” said Robert Buckingham, cemetery sexton. “The couple of people that have come here and given me ideas that are in this business said this is happening everywhere.”
“Cremations are becoming more and more popular and it will just give more space for people to do that … burials and the columbarium will help out with that without using up land,” agreed Spanish Valley Mortuary Funeral Director Mearl Sheldon. “Moab is probably around 50 percent cremations.”
Those numbers are on par with the national average. The National Funeral Directors Association found the 2017 cremation rate to be 50.2 percent, an all-time high. The upward trend is projected to continue.
The columbarium will be placed on the cement pad at the north end of Sunset Memorial Gardens, also known as the new cemetery. The area will be gated, with vases for flowers and benches for visitors.
“It’s going to be a place you can sit, reflect, have quiet time and people who are interested in this can put their loved ones in here,” Buckingham said.
Currently, two urns can be buried in a grave plot. That policy won’t change, but Buckingham hopes to save on the limited land space by offering the option of the columbarium.
The cemetery has one columbarium currently with eight burial niches. However, the small columbarium was designed for indoors and has not held up to the elements.
“The one that we have is kind of worn out,” said Marsha Marshall, chair of the maintenance board. “It was supposed to be indoors and it was placed outdoors. It needs updating.”
Buckingham said the first occupants of the new columbarium would be those who are currently in the old columbarium. Their families will get to pick the spot “because they’ve had to deal with this old thing.” Then the cemetery will start selling niches.
The columbarium will provide a cost savings for the families of the deceased, Buckingham said. The burial niches in the columbarium will cost the same as a grave plot at $500 but there will be no fee for opening and closing the grave and no gravestone to purchase.
Burial fees will cover the cost of the columbarium, Buckingham said.
“This will pay for itself,” Buckingham said. “We’re not in the business to make money, we’re trying to break even and supply a much-needed service for the community. That’s my aim, to keep it as low-cost as I can.”
At the same time, the maintenance district is building a database of gravesite information for the Castle Valley cemetery, thanks to a grant from Utah State Archives.
The cemeteries in Moab were mapped and catalogued in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Buckingham said. Those cemeteries include graves from as early as 1882. Moab’s oldest families’ genealogies can be traced through the years. Older graves exist, but the names of those buried there have been lost over the centuries.
The new effort will make sure that does not happen in Castle Valley by building a GIS map of the Castle Valley cemetery and adding the information about each grave to a database. The information will be searchable on namesinstone.com.