Better Place Forests Announces Online Tours Now Available for its Conservation Memorial Forest located in Illinois

Better Place Forests Rock River, chosen for its high conservation value in northern Illinois, protects 60 acres of forestland and sets to open for in-person tours this year

OREGON, Ill.--()--Today, Better Place Forests, the company that built America’s first conservation memorial forests, announced it is officially starting online tours of its newest property in Rock River Valley in Oregon, Illinois – near Rock Falls and Freeport. The company’s second forest in the Midwest region of the country and seventh overall, Better Place Forests Rock River boasts 60-acres of forestland and sits on a limestone bluff overlooking the stunning Rock River, a tributary of the Mississippi River. Better Place Forests Rock River is easily accessible from major cities, including Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison. The forest features a richly diverse ecosystem and Midwestern woodland tranquility. A popular wilderness escape for Chicago residents, the Rock River Valley offers fishing, boating, hiking, and an abundance of outdoor recreation in its many state parks and other protected lands.

Better Place Forests’ conservation memorial forests are a natural alternative to cemeteries for people who choose cremation – where their final resting place is a private tree in a protected forest. Ashes are mixed with soil and placed beneath the tree, continuing the life cycle of the forest. A custom memorial marker, reminiscent of those used by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to mark important locations, is placed at the base of the tree. Families, friends, and loved ones may come visit for generations to come.

Conservation Memorial Forest Protects Open Spaces in the Midwest

Earlier this year, Better Place Forests announced it was coming to northern Illinois - a location chosen for its accessibility to nearby major metropolitan areas, its enthusiastic outdoors community, and its conservation value and biodiversity. The forest is located a short distance from notable landmarks, including Castle Rock State Park, White Pines Forest State Park, and Lowden State Park — which features a renowned 125-foot statue of Black Hawk that towers over the Rock River.

In an area where many forests have been converted to farmland, Better Place Forests Rock River is a protected wooded oasis and a reminder of the importance of protecting American forestland. The forest serves as a critical piece of a contiguous, undeveloped stretch of land that provides migratory pathways and habitats for a variety of native species.

As a part of the company’s goal to protect iconic forests and open spaces, Better Place Forests will ensure that the land is well-maintained, will thrive ecologically, and is protected from development. Since the initial announcement, over 8,000 people have expressed interest and signed up to receive updates on the forest. Today the company announces it is officially opening for online forest tours, where those interested may choose their memorial tree.

Better Place Forests Rock River has received widespread community support, including from Illinois State Representative Tom Demmer and unanimous approval from the County Board. Among the most appreciated early supporters are former property caretaker, Rick Ryland, a steward of the land for over 14 years, and Mark Herman, superintendent of education with the Byron Forest Preserve District.

Rick Ryland comments: “When I found out that Better Place Forests would take over the property, I was thrilled. All of those trees could have easily been cut down and turned into farmland or developed. Knowing that Better Place Forests will conserve the land and help more people connect with the natural beauty of this unique forest makes me incredibly happy.”

Mark Herman tells Ogle County Life: “This is a new concept for placing cremated remains with established trees in forests in a long-term natural setting. There will be trails through the forests, [and] the land will be returned to native species of plants, wildflowers and not mowed lawns like most cemeteries or parks. It will provide another way to protect large sections of native forest ecosystems.”

Forest Sections and Pricing

Better Place Forests is now offering online tours of its Rock River property to show potential customers the variety of trees they may choose from, including: red and white oak, black walnut, shagbark hickory, hackberry, and black cherry.

Better Place Forests is offering memorial trees in three distinct sections to start:

  • Riverside Bluff: Big stately trees sit atop an elevated limestone bluff overlooking the Rock River. This riverfront location provides a peaceful and inviting space for reflection as well as virtually endless views of nature.
  • Cathedral Grove: Featuring some of the largest and oldest trees in the forest, Cathedral Grove acts as a reminder of the grandeur of Rock River. With a calming canopy of white oak and black cherry trees, experiencing this section is akin to standing on hallowed ground in a natural cathedral.
  • Woodland Knoll: In the heart of the forest, a seasonal stream runs through Woodland Knoll. Walking through this untouched wilderness, visitors will see wild turkeys, deer, and other small mammals roaming freely through the woods.

Bald eagles, herons, and over 100 species of birds can be spotted nesting and hunting near the forest and using the Rock River as a migratory pathway, along with wild turkey, deer, and squirrels roaming the woods and feeding off the fruits and nuts provided by the native trees.

Sandy Gibson, Co-founder and CEO of Better Place Forests, tells Northern Public Radio: “[We want to offer a place] where people have this beautiful memory. So that for the rest of their lives, when they think of that person that they've lost, they're going to be able to think of them surrounded by the beauty of nature and the beauty of that place."

He continues: “Rock River is a testament to the unique biodiversity, wildlife, and open spaces of the Midwest. The Oregon community – and those in nearby major cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison – are especially passionate about conserving the land. We're glad to provide families and loved ones a way to protect these open spaces, while also giving their loved ones a beautiful, meaningful way of being remembered. The combination of conservation value, community support, and accessibility make Better Place Forests Rock River the ideal location for our newest conservation memorial forest.”

The base price for a memorial tree starts at $4,900, a much more affordable option than the cost of a traditional burial which can easily add up to $15,000 or more*.

For each tree reserved, Better Place Forests plants 25-400 Impact Trees to help reforest America through its partnership with One Tree Planted.

Better Place Forests Rock River will be open for in-person tours in the summer of 2021 with memorial ceremonies beginning in summer 2022.

The company has already established a total of seven memorial forests across the country including Better Place Forests Rock River. The other locations are in Santa Cruz, California, Point Arena, California, Flagstaff, Arizona, St. Croix Valley, Minnesota, Litchfield Hills, Connecticut, and Berkshires, Massachusetts.

For more information on Better Place Forests Rock River or to book an online tour, please click here.

Additional quotes of support from the community:

Kerry Leigh, the Executive Director of Natural Lands Institute, comments: “Working with Better Place Forests to secure a conservation easement on a new project in Illinois has been a pleasure, as they are so committed to the health of the ecosystem and preserving the integrity of the forest in perpetuity. We look forward to our future relationship with them as one of our Heritage LandKeepers.”

Mark Herman, the Superintendent of Education at Byron Forest Preserve, adds: “It’s a beautiful piece of forest and I was impressed that Better Place Forests went in and did it right. They’ve gone in and cleaned out the invasive species, they targeted the important trees that are native to the area and they're trying to restore the land to its most natural state. Better Place Forests is a new addition to land preservation within the community which gives people the opportunity to honor their relatives along with the ability to be a part of the natural world, preserving the land and keeping it from being developed and changed forever.”

*According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a funeral with viewing, vault and burial in 2019 was $9,135 per person. A headstone and plot can range from $1,700-$10,000, depending on location, according to Choice Mutual.

About Better Place Forests

At Better Place Forests, our mission is to inspire everyone to leave a meaningful legacy for the planet and the people they love. We are the end-of-life company that built America’s first conservation memorial forests –– beautiful, sustainable alternatives to cemeteries for people who choose cremation. We offer you an end-of-life experience that is uplifting, empowering and personal by enabling you to return your ashes to the earth, underneath a protected memorial tree. By creating beautiful memorial spaces that resonate with you and your loved ones, we establish, maintain and protect forestland for generations to come.

Awarded as one of Fast Company’s “World Changing Ideas” and “Most Innovative Companies” of 2020, Better Place Forests helps you write a better ending to your story and establish a lasting legacy while conserving some of the most iconic natural land in North America. For more information, visit


Krystine Dinh
Communications for Better Place Forests


Krystine Dinh
Communications for Better Place Forests