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From Wilderness to Landfill—and Back Again
Then in 1948, 2,741 acres of the Fresh Kills marshlands (kill is Old Dutch for "stream") were designated a landfill. Seven years later, Fresh Kills was the largest residential trash repository in the world—and the name Staten Island less synonymous with bucolic meadows than with an epic stench.
But now Thoreau's "garden" is making a comeback—as Freshkills Park. In 2008 construction began on a 30-year master plan that calls for nature trails, a bird observatory, and canoeing. The city is also harvesting natural gas from the buried waste and using it to heat 22,000 homes (the waste is "capped" with an impermeable cover to prevent fumes from escaping). This summer the park's first completed section, a playground, is scheduled to open to the public; a pedestrian loop and the Owl Hollow Fields—which include soccer fields, lawns, and a LEED-certified rest area—will follow this fall. Red foxes and deer have already recolonized the upland forests, and park administrator Eloise Hirsh sees goldfinches on her way to work—evidence that "the land is healing itself," she says. "By turning this into something really beautiful, we want to help people be more thoughtful about what they throw out."