A look back on Fall 2020

It was yet another busy Fall at Freshkills Park this year. While we were unable to host our annual Discovery Day, we were excited to welcome back small groups for outdoor programming that included the necessary safety precautions.  Participants experienced the landfill-to-park transformation through nature walks, birding, photography tours, and kayaking.

We asked a few participants to share their highlights from being on site and experiencing the grassland and wetland ecosystems firsthand.

Nature Walk- Giovanni

On September 17th, I attended the family nature walk hosted by the Freshkills Park Alliance. I have read about the development of Freshkills Park, but nothing compares to visiting and seeing it with my own eyes. I was moved to see the great work happening on such a large scale. The Freshkills Park Alliance supplied the visitors attending the event with binoculars, so I learned about various bird species migrating and nesting on the site. I was amazed to see nature reclaiming this site. The park’s grasslands create a diverse habitat with uncommon plant and animal species in the New York area. I’m happy the Freshkills Park Alliance is hosting educational tours so visitors can see the progress of Freshkills Park overtime.

Kayak Tour- Margaret

Since joining NYC Parks in 2014, it has been a goal of mine to go kayaking at Freshkills Park.  I had heard so much about the experience from Commissioner Silver, who kayaked there several years ago, and said it was the best kayaking experience he has ever had. So, I jumped on the chance to go this fall and was part of the first group to go out since COVID struck our city. As expected, I was not disappointed. It was a beautiful fall afternoon, and I was struck by how peaceful and far away from civilization you felt when you got on the water. The Freshkills mounds are so wide open and the grasses sway in the breeze, making you feel like you are in a different part of the country and certainly not in the city!

We were lucky to see several kinds of birds, including great egrets, double-crested cormorants, and a great blue heron. As a bonus, back on land we saw an osprey eating a fish they had just caught perched right above us on a pole!  Laura was a fantastic guide, and I was excited to hear that Parks is making progress on the design for the South Park project which is located near the Owl Hollow Soccer Fields.  When complete, South Park will have two multi-purpose fields, a comfort station and walking paths. I also got a water’s eye view of the construction in progress for North Park Phase 1 which will have a pedestrian/bike path, a composting comfort station, a bird tower and an overlook that will provide incredible views of Freshkills wetlands and creeks.  Construction on North Park Phase 1 is expected to be complete next summer.

Our trip went so quickly I wish we had been able to go further into the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge and spend more time in this beautiful landscape. Thanks to this lovely experience, my friends and I puzzled over the impossible task of how we could buy and store a kayak in our Brooklyn apartments to be able to experience the joy of kayaking more often. A folding kayak might be in my future!

Photography Tour- Sean

Photo Credit: Sean Sweeney

In Life we learn that nothing is permanent and we go on to find that this is most often true. Nothing lasts forever is something that generally evokes some sadness. Relationships, possessions and life itself are some of those things that we know to be temporary. In 1948 a temporary landfill made the best of a useless marshland in the borough of my birth. Put quotations around temporary, best and useless. In 1955 the temporary landfill became the largest in the world and an ever growing blemish to us Islanders. 

Summer drives in the 70s and 80s would bring us to places like the Staten Island Mall or out to Jersey Shore sites. The trips would bring us within sight of the active and working mounds of hellish garbage. There isn’t a word yet that best describes the rancid, sour rot that my mind can regenerate straight to my nose even now. It was a race to the window crank when I was young and cars were old and later it was shutting the a/c vents and sweltering without breathing in once as we passed. The birds worked as feverishly as the front end loaders and dump trucks in the fetid piles. My young mind was always wondering about where it all came from and when would it end half knowing that it never would.  

Nothing is permanent, not even politiciansormounds of refuse. The Landfill, as old habits cause me to refer to it, will be the joy and laughter of my not yet born (or thought of) grandchildren. Through the photos that I’ve been permitted to capture, there will be documentation of what once was. Images that I’ve taken there recently have been mistaken for hayfields in Nebraska and referred to as amber waves of grain. Beneath my feet as I walk are remnants of 70 years of a dirty Staten Island history but nothing is permanent thankfully so.  

My latest visit had me thinking of the new vista as landscapes and not landfills. The hills became backdrops for a woman in flowing red dress. It was Anastasia’s first trip to Freshkills Park and she became one with the beauty that is blooming and the future that it offers. A future Freshkills that will leave us all happy that not everything is permanent. 

Volunteer Project- Noaa

I’m a Biology Major from College of Staten Island, passionate about ecology and environmental conservation. Searching for experience with NYC parks is what brought me to Freshkills. Normally unavailable to the public, I found that volunteering was a great way to get an inside look at this hidden corner of Staten Island. 

My first experience with Freshkills was during my time banding birds with my college professor. Arriving at 4:00 AM, quite early in the morning, watching the sun rise and hearing the migratory birds waking up, was a great experience. The park is beautiful, and I’m happy to know that NYC has oases like this for wildlife. After seeing how pretty the park was, I opted to volunteer at the visitor’s center. Quite intensive, we were tasked with spreading mulch around the dirt plots of the visitors center to prepare them for planting. Through all the hard work, and with much friendly conversation with the staff about how much we all adore poison ivy, we finished the mulching. There were free granola bars. 

My most recent volunteer venture was landscaping at Schmul Park. This wasn’t exactly within Freshkills itselfbut it is one of the perimeter projects and I still believe it demonstrates a good example of what volunteering there is like. There were many people just like me –  interested in nature and/or from college and looking for credits. There was plenty of talk about plants, NYC parks, and the importance of landscaping (all with proper social distancing of course). In the end, we had a patch of freshly planted grasses, trees, and flowers. In a year or so I’ll come back to see how the patch of vegetation is doing. Maybe we’d have planted more in other places by then! 

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