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What You Should Know About Spreading Cremation Ashes

By Richard Dahl on August 19, 2022

In June, a Colorado Avalanche hockey fan learned the hard way that you can't just spread cremation ashes wherever you want.

Ryan Clark, a loyal fan of the NHL team, lost his longtime best friend Kyle Stark last December. Stark shared his friend's enthusiasm for the game and the Avs, so Clark thought it a fitting tribute to spread a small bag of his friend's cremation ashes on the rink ice.

An usher spotted Clark leaning over the glass and spreading the ashes on the ice before the game and asked what he was doing. When Clark told him it was the remains of a friend, the usher reported the incident to management. After the game, Clark received a letter telling him that he is banned from all Avalanche games for the remainder of the season.

Do's and Don'ts in Spreading Cremains

Many people stipulate in their will that their cremation ashes – their "cremains" – be spread in a particular place that was important to them in life. If there is no directive, a family may make its own decision.

Whatever the case, it is important to be aware that regulations and laws may come into play.

The first question to ask is whether the chosen destination is public or private. A hockey arena, although visited by thousands of people, is a private space. So is a music venue like the Metropolitan Opera, where a fan tossed cremation ashes into the orchestra pit in 2016.

Of course, most destinations for cremains are outdoors, but you still need to take certain steps before spreading ashes. If it's private land, be sure to ask the owner for permission. If it's public land, you also may need to get approval — and then be careful that you don't spread the ashes in an area where others will use the space.

Each state has its own laws on spreading cremains. Some, like Minnesota, don't have any regulations on scattering ashes on public land or waters. California, on the other hand, places several restrictions on the practice. The Golden State says it is OK to spread ashes on private property but requires that the owner give written permission. Ashes can be spread on public land, but only with the written permission of the local government.

Federal Lands and the Open Sea

If you want to spread cremains on federal land, like a national park, you must get a permit from the agency in charge of that land. Some national park websites provide guidelines for spreading cremation ashes. Yellowstone National Park, for instance, provides a link to an application form for a permit, and says that ceremonies should be "small private" affairs held away from high visitor use areas.

Beaches are popular destinations for cremation ashes, but be aware that many states don't allow you to use their beaches for that purpose.

The ocean is also a popular destination that requires a permit. The agency in charge is the Environmental Protection Agency and the governing law covers all burials at sea — including non-cremated human remains. The rules for burials at sea include:

  • Burials must be at least three nautical miles from shore.
  • Urns containing the ashes, flowers, and wreaths may be placed into the water, but they must be biodegradable.
  • Pet cremains are generally prohibited without a special permit.

'Cremation Gardens'

Whether it's on water or dry land, spreading cremains might sound like more of a legal thicket than you imagined. One option to avoid the red tape, though, is to use cemetery "cremation gardens," which are growing in popularity and don't require any kind of permits.

Also keep in mind that if your loved one was a fanatic regular at a hockey arena or opera house, the idea of spreading some of their ashes there is something you should banish from your mind.

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