Scattering Ashes: A Brief Guide

by J. Malec

Ash scattering dad's ashes. Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue


Imagine that before your loved one passed, he said, “Ash scattering is the way to go.” Since then, you’ve browsed through images of urns for scattering ashes, selected a preliminary location and done research on scattering ashes. There is one more thing to consider: you may need permission to scatter ashes in the location you have chosen. 

As you begin to explore how to obtain permission, it’s helpful to keep a few things in mind.

  • Rules vary from place to place.
  • There is no one governing authority that oversees requests for ash scatterings across the country.
  • Details on requesting and obtaining permission are tricky to track down. 

Where to start: planning an ash scattering ceremony

  • Depending on where you intend to hold the ash scattering ceremony, contacting a private, public, county or state office might be required to grant your request.
  • If a national park is being considered as the final resting place of your loved one’s cremains, there are existing policies for each park system, and a permit may likely be required.
  • If private land has been identified as the preferred location for an ash scattering ceremony, obtain written permission from the owner.
  • If you’ve decided on a water burial, be sure to review the EPA rules for burial at sea, and browse through collections of urns for scattering ashes at sea.

How do I request permission to scatter ashes? 

In general, unless your intent is to disburse cremains on your family’s privately owned land, it is wise to seek written permission from the owner of the selected property. 

State parks, for instance, maintain guidelines and often ask for a request in writing. California’s Crystal Cove State Park has published an online guide. It suggests to include the following in your request:

  1. A statement that you are the legal custodian of the cremated ashes of [person’s name].
  2. The location where you intend to hold the scattering ashes ceremony.
  3. Alternately state that you will scatter the cremains at a location determined by the park, state, or governing entity.
  4. The day, date and time of the ash scattering, along with the expected number of attendees.
  5. The person’s name and contact information responsible for the scattering. 

The online guide also suggests that the responsible person should have a copy of the permission letter on hand at the ash scattering ceremony.

National parks often request that a Scattering of Ashes Permit or Special Use Permit Application be submitted, such as with the application process for the Grand Teton National Park.

As mentioned above, if a burial at sea has been decided upon, the EPA has a set of regulations governed by the Clean Water Act. According to these rules:

All burials conducted shall be reported within 30 days to the EPA Region in writing. The following information should be included and mailed or faxed to the [appropriate] contact... Name of deceased, date of burial/scatter, types of remains (cremated/non-cremated), location of burial/scatter (latitude and longitude, distance from shore and depth of water), the name of the vessel used and the name of the person responsible for burial arrangements.

Cremation urns such as the sea turtle biodegradable urn are crafted for water ceremonies. The sea turtle floats briefly allowing for moments of a final farewell before it sinks.

What if my request for an ash scattering ceremony is rejected?

Of course, there is always a chance that your request will be turned down. Be prepared to accept a negative response with your chin up, and have a list of possible locations so that you have backups. Kathryn Cates Moore cites several examples of institutions that do not allow ash scatterings and why. Don’t take it personally -- if there is an existing policy against such activities, there is likely a good reason why the area has been set off limits.

Finally, consider that ash scattering is irreversible, and that family survivors may instead wish to have a permanent memorial site to visit and pay their respects.

*Image: “Before scattering my dad’s ashes” by Nicki Dugan Pogue

J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.


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