7 landfills ingeniously fashioned into beautiful parks
Thanks to some impressive technology and forward-thinking people, there can be glory beyond the garbage.
When we throw away trash, we all know it doesn’t actually go away.
Each discarded cigarette butt, fast-food bag and soiled diaper eventually finds a home in one of hundreds of thousands of landfills – the more-digestible term for trash dumps. The average American accumulates seven pounds of trash a day, which – go ahead, do the math – adds up to 102 tons over a lifetime. Environmentalists say landfills can have ruinous effects on the surrounding infrastructure, where toxic fumes, animal and insect infestations and contaminated groundwater have been reported.
The damage can’t be undone. But it can be abated.
Thanks to some impressive technology and forward-thinking people, there can be glory beyond the garbage. A number of projects across the globe have managed to conceal massive mounds of waste and turned them into natural treasures – embarking on such dramatic transformations that, when it’s all done, some visitors don’t even know that something much different used to lie underneath.
1. Freshkills Park, N.Y.
Freshkills Park in New York is a work-in-progress. (Photo: Kristine Paulus/Flickr)
Fresh Kills Landfill was established in 1948. Seven years later, it grew to become the world's largest landfill. According to the park's website, at its peak of operation in 1986-87, Fresh Kills received as much as 29,000 tons of trash per day and employed 680 people.
Community demand forced the landfill to stop accepting waste by 2001; after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, New York Gov. George Pataki ordered the landfill to temporarily resume operations in order to handle materials from the destroyed World Trade Center.
Later that year, New York City drafted a master plan to convert the landfill into a 2,200-acre municipal park. It's still in development, but when it's completed, it will be one of the largest urban parks in the world – more than double the size of Central Park.
2. Chambers Gully, Australia
Australia's Chambers Gully. (Photo: Paul Weston/Flickr)
Chambers Gully in Australia's southern state of Adelaide was a landfill before it was reclaimed, naturalized and reopened in 1997 for recreational purposes. It's now part of the Cleland Conservation Park, attracting a variety of wildlife. It's also popular with adventure-seeking hikers for biking, running, climbing and just good, old-fashioned nature loving.
The trail itself is flat and peaceful, but its steep intersecting paths are challenging – and breathtaking. Hikers soon find themselves koala spotting and testing their bird calls. A hiker reported seeing eight koalas on his walk. Trail reviewers also recalled "noisy" bushes – frogs croaking, koalas bellowing, cockatoos screeching, kookaburras laughing. A true Oz experience.
3. Mount Trashmore, Virginia Beach, Va.
Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach. (Photo: Rain0975/Flickr)
Mount Trashmore Park was constructed in 1974 over an 800-foot-high mound of municipal refuse in Virginia Beach. It's now composed of two man-made mountains, two lakes, two playgrounds, a skate park and vert ramp and multi-use paths, according to the park's website.
The Kids Cove Playground opened in December 2010 and boasts nearly 26,000 square feet of swings, slides and climbing structures. Mount Trashmore Skate Park opened in August 2003 and is framed with treated wood and completely covered with composite material. Adjacent to the skate park is a competition-sized vert ramp, opened in 2006, that spans 13.5 feet tall and 40 feet wide.
Other features include picnic shelters, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits and outdoor fitness stations.
4. Ariel Sharon Park, Israel
Ariel Sharon Park, as seen from above. (Photo: State of Israel/Flickr)
Hiriya Mountain, a massive landfill outside of Tel Aviv, grew to contain more than 25 million tons of waste before it was closed in 1999. Now, a former museum director is working to transform the property into a vast urban park and ecological attraction.
When completed, Ariel Sharon Park will be a 2,000-acre expanse featuring an amphitheater, athletic fields, bike and walking paths, ponds and wetlands. n order to protect the park's plants from contaminants left over from the landfill, the entire landscape is being covered by a bio-plastic layer to block methane, which will then be covered by several layers of gravel, and about three feet of dirt.
The park is being opened in stages, with the entire project expected to be completed by 2020.
5. Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Colo.
Red Rock Canyon in Colorado. (Photo: Miguel Vieira/Flickr)
Colorado's Red Rock Canyon was a source of building supplies and materials dating back to the late 1800s. It was used as a refinery by the Colorado-Philadelphia Company Mill, then closed and largely unused until John George Bock purchased the land in the mid-1920s.
The Bock family's plans for a resort community, convention center, high-rises and a golf course never materialized, and it came to house a 53-acre landfill and two gravel quarries. In 2003, the city of Colorado Springs bought the land and turned it into a public open space.
Plans for the site are still in the works, but visitors can still enjoy an array of trails, climbing rocks and picnic areas. The ridges and canyons provide thrilling views, and its varied terrain is an outdoorsman's dream.
6. Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, Wash.
The Japanese Garden at Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, Wash. (Photo: Daniel X. O'Neil/Flickr)
The 62-acre Miller Street Dump was one of many trash mounds around the Seattle area that were closed, covered and converted into parks, residential areas, parking lots, sports fields and nature preserves. The dump opened in the early 1910s and closed in 1936. At that time, the term "landfill" hadn't been coined yet.
The property was taken over by the state of Washington in the 1960s, and it was cleaned up and naturalized to become part of Washington Park Arboretum's Winkenwerder Memorial Area. The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge was built in the late 1960s, a project that included ramps leading to and from the bridge. These ramps still stand today, though some are unused, and the state is planning to remove them all to make way for more Arboretum space.
Now, the Arboretum boasts more than 40,000 trees, shrubs and vines from around the world and is home to the Seattle Japanese Garden. This hidden gem features a lake with koi and turtles, tea ceremonies and special events.
7. Sai Tso Wan Recreation Ground, Hong Kong
The "green" sculpture at Sai Tso Wan Recreation Ground in Hong Kong. (Photo: Ngchikit/Wikimedia Commons)
The Sai Tso Wan Landfill held approximately 1.6 million tons of waste between 1978 and 1981, creating a pile that topped 200 feet high. After its closure in 1981, it was sealed off with soil. The landfill then underwent a series of restoration works from 1995 to 2004, which turned it into a recreation ground.
The Sai Tso Wan Recreation Ground features a soccer and baseball field, two batting cages, a playground and a jogging track. Opened in 2004, it was the first recreational facility in Hong Kong to be built over a landfill, and it marked an important milestone in the country's green movement. A number of eco-friendly features dot the park, including wind turbines, solar panels and a recycled rubber mat lining the playground's surface.
The site also includes a statue made from recycled construction and glass waste that's meant to symbolizes the importance of sustainable waste management. The three arrows remind the public to reduce, reuse and recycle; the last arrow is in green, which symbolizes the country's emerging focus on an environmentally conscious lifestyle.
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