DOUGLAS, Mich. - When Karen Hartman was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015, she and her husband, Jack, decided to make a vacation home in Douglas their permanent residence so she could enjoy her final days near Lake Michigan.
The proximity to Saugatuck Dunes State Park provided the ideal place for long, leisurely strolls with their dogs.
“We used to say to each other, wouldn’t it be nice to have our ashes buried or spread out here after we die, just become a part of the natural surroundings out here,’’ Jack Hartman said.
When Karen died in January at the age of 63, that conversation replayed itself in his mind.
“After that happened, I remembered the conversations we had about burying her, spreading her ashes out here,’’ he said. “I looked into it, but learned you cannot bury or spread ashes on public property.’’
He got in touch with the office of state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. Their discussions led to Senate Bill No. 1061, which would allow loved ones of the deceased to spread ashes in a state park “while also giving back to the state park they loved through volunteerism or financial contribution.’’
The bill would allow donations to be channeled to specific programs, such as trail maintenance, playgrounds, invasive species prevention and tree replacement.
Under the bill, cremated remains would have to be treated “to prevent a negative resource impact.’’ Hartman said the high sodium content in cremated remains can be neutralized before they are spread on the ground or buried.
The Cremation Association of North America says about 51 percent of deaths last year were handled by cremation. As more families opt for cremation over traditional burial, allowing ashes to be spread on state land under certain conditions makes sense, Hartman said.
“I didn’t see really any problem with doing this; it’s a win-win,’’ he said. “People would get the right to put their loved ones’ remains on state park or state forest property in exchange for a donation, which could ensure the long-term viability of our state parks and forests.’’
The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Outdoor Recreation and Tourism.
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