Atlanta’s Secret Sanctuary: Honey Creek Woodlands

Just a few miles east of the concrete jungle that is downtown Atlanta rests a lush, diverse ecosystem known as Honey Creek Woodlands. Roughly 600 people also rest peacefully there, in their final resting place — in one of Atlanta’s best-kept secrets — a natural burial sanctuary that encompasses nearly 1,000 acres of stunning beauty.

20151106_143513

My ongoing tour of conservation-based, nature-preserve cemeteries landed me in the pristine Honey Creek Woodlands recently, and I have to say — I was impressed! As part of the 8,000 acres of the Arabia Mountain Heritage Corridor that runs through Conyers, Georgia (which includes miles and miles of gorgeous hiking trails), Honey Creek is owned and operated by the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. But don’t let that fool you; this natural burial cemetery is open to people of all faiths, or no faith, and the vibe is completely free of sectarian or religious overtones . . . unless Nature happens to be your religion.

Deer and foxes, an amazing variety of butterflies and birds, and more than a few turtles and lizards make their home in and around Honey Creek, and I enjoyed hearing moving stories of how creatures ranging from butterflies and moths to snapping turtles have been part of the nearly 600 burials that have taken place there since Honey Creek opened in 2008. Each creature, it seems, is welcome, and its participation in the great cycle of life is also celebrated, every time someone is laid to rest in the earth from which we all come.

The result, as Honey Creek steward Elaine Bishoff puts it, is “not so much a cemetery that allows wildlife, but a wildlife preserve that allows burials.”

Indeed, if you seek a natural burial, Honey Creek offers not only more wildlife and more acreage, but more selection than most of the growing number of “green” cemeteries in America. There is a woodlands section composed of many different types of trees, fairly densely packed for a true “in the woods” feel, with paths that weave throughout. There is a meadow section of tall wild grasses and beautiful views. There’s a savanna section near the creek. There’s the stately pine forest section,20151106_123019    where tall pine trees and relatively open areas underneath them invite walking and reflecting — not to mention sitting, on one of the many simple, wooden benches that are sprinkled throughout. Finally, there’s the newly opened hilltop section, which offers a full 360-degree vista and will soon include a non-denominational chapel featuring a 40-foot bell tower, to open in 2017.

All of these sections of the Honey Creek Woodlands are reached, first by driving more than a mile off a two-lane highway (the monastery is on the other side of the highway), then by hiking or taking one of the cemetery’s golf carts another mile or so on a gravel path that includes a bridge over Honey Creek itself. 20151106_113503  In other words, though you are technically still within the metropolitan Atlanta area, when you visit Honey Creek Woodlands, you really are “off the beaten path,” well away from “civilization” — and definitely “back in nature.”

When you’re in Atlanta, be sure to set aside an entire day to get the full Honey Creek experience — and if you live in or around Atlanta, I encourage you to look them up (http://www.honeycreekwoodlands.com/), give them a call, and schedule a tour. You will enjoy Honey Creek while you are alive — and your loved ones will enjoy it, after you are gone.