After the world’s largest landfill closed down, New York State officials and nonprofits facilitated a decades-long transition from dump to green outdoors space.
Creating a park three times the size of Central Park? That’s not so easy. The conversion has involved goats, using landfill fumes to methane-power homes, and plenty of manpower as buried trash gets turned into rolling hills of native grass.
Fresh Kills landfill, once the dumping site for all of New York City’s garbage, was a place that once terrorized Staten Islanders with odors and the sight of trash mounds said to have reached 20 stories high.
Now it’s just months away from reopening as one of the world’s great rewilding projects in the boundaries of one of the most densely populated areas in the Western Hemisphere.
Originally promised as a park by former mayor Michael Bloomberg during a dip in the polls, the dump closed in 2001, allowing sanitation department officials to begin work to control the pollution.
The desire to turn it into a park led the Department of City Planning to host an international design competition—the project for creating New York City’s largest park construction in over a century eventually went to the Field Operations firm.
Trucks of iron-rich soil were brought in from New Jersey to cover plastic sheeting that “capped” the garbage mounds, staining local roads red, while methane extraction pipes channeled the fumes of the underground detritus into Staten Island homes to power heating and stoves.
Next, concrete troughs were constructed to funnel rainwater quickly away from the trash hills, and a local park was restored, along with the baseball diamond, handball courts, and playgrounds. Goats were brought in for their ecological restoration abilities in 2012.
Centered around four capped garbage mounds, fields of native grass species sparkle and wave under the sun, and trails through sun-dappled groves give habitat to mid-Atlantic birds like the grasshopper sparrow.
The mounds are separated by tidal creeks and natural waterways which recapture the image of the Dutch word (kille) for tidal marsh and wetlands that gave the area its curious name “Freshkills” back in 1930.
Turning the world’s largest landfill, once home to 150 million tons of trash, into a 2,200 acre state park takes time. The plan is for Freshkills to open in stages, starting with the North Park Phase 1, in which 21 acres will open to the public next spring, and continuing incrementally for another decade and a half.
The Freshkills website features some 360° pictures that allow you to understand not only the scope of the park, but a chance to imagine what was there before.
The ultimate image of renewal, Freshkills social media pages take advantage of the triumph of all parties involved to educate people on the importance of wetlands, grasslands, animals, and outdoor recreation—all things which New Yorkers will be overjoyed to experience in earnest once the lockdowns lift.