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California Cemetary Installs Artificial Turf Expects $200,000 in Maintenance Costs Savings

By Catherine Elsworth, Daily Telegraph, in Los Angeles
A cemetery in California has dealt a blow to the traditional view of death as a return to nature by replacing the natural grass around graves with a springy green carpet of polyurethane “turf”.

The Sunset Hills Memorial Park, in Apple Valley, is thought to be the first in the world to trade the natural greenery bordering most of its 2,000 plots for synthetic turf. “Pushing up plastic” may not have quite the same ring as “pushing up daisies” but it makes sense in the water-parched Californian desert.

So far only a handful of graves are bordered by the artificial grass, including those belonging to the singing cowboy stars Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, but the cemetery’s owner, Chet Hitt, predicts that all of them will be ringed by [synthetic grass] within two years.

“I believe it will revolutionize the cemetery industry,” said Mr Hitt, who calculates that the move will save as much as $200,000 in water and maintenance costs over the next three years. He expects that other graveyards will soon follow his lead.

Apple Valley, about 90 miles north east of Los Angeles, is in the Mojave Desert, where scorching temperatures and scant rain make keeping the grass green a costly, full-time job. [The synthetic grass] costs about £5 ($10 per sf) a square foot and should last eight years.

“There are so many advantages,” Mr Hitt said. “There will be huge savings on water, which at the moment I draw from a 1,000ft well. We won’t need to cut the grass or weed around the headstones, and the graves will stay as clean and shiny as the day they were set.”

The nine-year-old cemetery’s 52 acres already boast many quirky features: faux rock mausoleums, fake trees with hollow trunks, and a water feature called the Sacred Falls. Many headstones are inscribed with large autographs and amusing epitaphs. Although initially skeptical of [synthetic grass], believing that the imitation grass would be the crude plastic of early [artificial turf], Mr Hitt was converted when he was sent a batch of samples by the Las Vegas supplier.

“The grass has two-inch blades and after you lay it, you put on a layer of sand, so when you step on it, the grass bounces right back up just like the real thing,” he said.

When new graves are dug, a hole is cut in the turf as if it were carpet, and the grass neatly re-laid around the stone. So convincing is the artificial vegetation that the cemetery’s gardeners recently mowed it by mistake. “They felt pretty dumb afterwards,” said Mr Hitt. “But it’s so realistic it’s not surprising.”

He only recently began offering the turf to customers but said that the concept had “really taken off”. He also plans to resurface his other cemetery in Apple Valley, the 87-year-old Victor Valley Memorial Park.

Nine representatives from cemeteries in Arizona have already visited Sunset Hills. The fake turf has caused such a stir in the industry that Mr Hitt has been invited to address a conference of cemetery owners on the topic next year.

So far he claims not to have encountered any hostility to the idea. “It can be odd for people who haven’t seen the new grass,” he acknowledged. “But if they are putting artificial flowers on their loved ones’ graves it makes sense to have artificial turf as well. And the main thing is, it just looks so much better.”

Original Publishing:
Daily Telegraph – UK, 10-24-2004

In California the dead are pushing up the plastic

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