The Wetlands of Freshkills Park
Wetlands are are ecosystems that connect the land and the water. The four main types of wetlands, as defined by the EPA, are marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens. They are uniquely characterized by their water regime, vegetation, soil, landscape, chemistry, and even human disturbance. Unfortunately, until the 1900s dominant public opinion held that wetlands were ‘wastelands’ that required improvement by way draining or “filling” for development. The Freshkills Park site in Staten Island, once primarily tidal (salt) marshes, was “filled” with household waste between 1948 and 2001. By the time the landfill closed 2001, research had shown that wetlands are amazingly productive ecosystems that also provide many economic benefits. Due to the importance of this habitat, Freshkills Park is restoring 360 acres of tidal and freshwater wetlands.
New York City is currently experiencing a wetland renaissance. As the impacts of climate change grow more severe, restoring wetlands makes New York City — a city defined by its waterways– more resilient. Prominent examples include the 2021 Natural Areas Conservancy and NYC Parks Wetland Management Framework, which aims to create, conserve and strengthen the city’s wetlands, and the Bluebelt Program, which redirects storm water through engineered systems to create new habitats around the natural waterways in the area. Opening in 2022, the monumental 22-acre North Park Phase 1 will feature a wetland overlook and a bird tower, which will provide expansive views of tidal wetlands along main creek. A critical part of North Park Phase 1 is the Main Creek Wetland Restoration, a pilot project to research wetland restoration techniques. By restoring wetlands, Freshkills Park becomes not only an important shelter for plants and animals, but also a symbol of urban renewal and positive change.