Blogs by Hilary Hopkins

Closer to Home

What Can You Do With A Dump?

April 01, 2013 / What Can You Do With A Dump?

When we first moved here, it was a dump.

No, I mean a real dump, a mountain of trash and garbage.  Opportunistic gulls lunched on it.  They wheeled above it in large numbers, their loud calls vaguely cat-like.  For twenty years the city I live in had used this site as a dump. 

In some ways it was a good place for trash.  Underneath the thick layer of refuse lay a big deposit of clay, and for a hundred years prior to the dumping, that clay had been excavated by a brick-making company.  (In fact, the nearby house I live in and many others near it were originally built as clay-pit workers’ homes.)   Anyhow, the clay-mining had left a nice big hole with the more or less impermeable clay lining to it, perfect for preventing leaching of nasty stuff from the trash and garbage.  Excellent!  So for twenty years, until 1971, the old clay-pit was filled with the city’s leavings, feeding the gulls and no doubt other, furry, creatures.

Came the state transit authority, needing a place to dump two million cubic yards of earth and rock, the result of digging some new subway tunnels.  Hey, maybe we can reclaim the dump, put that stuff in this big hole, and turn it into a park? 

If you plunk down that much dirt and rock onto trash, the trash rapidly sinks and compacts—it sank over fourteen feet as it turned out.  Excellent again, since if you are going to make a park out of a dump you don’t want it settling and thus making cracks in your sidewalks or running tracks or whatever hard surfaces you want to put down.

So: a layer of bedrock, a layer of clay, a layer of trash, a layer of tunnel-dirt-and-rock—and finally a layer of sand and loam, and grass and flower seed, and trees—and you have a park.

And then there was the problem of the low-lying land intersecting the high-lying water table, and the resulting constant flooding of the area.   A sort of a new wetland was engineered and constructed over the old one, over the trash and the tunneled-out dirt and rock.

Trees were planted.  Playing fields were laid out, and a playground and small picnicking places.  They tried some wildflower meadows but they didn’t work out well; instead the local meadow plants—Queen Anne’s Lace, Milkweed, Vetch, various Asters, Jerusalem Artichoke and lots of others—have found good growing.   Butterflies like these.  Many rabbits can be seen at dusk.  Once I saw a hawk up a tree with a fresh-caught snake in its beak. There’s a new and very popular dog park, good for entertainment even if you only have a cat.

Redwing Blackbirds and Mallard Ducks found the wetland, and at least one year there were Spring Peeper frogs.   Cattails are holding their own against invasive Phragmites. 

Perhaps the best part of the Dump-Park is the tall graceful hill in the middle of it.   Standing on the hilltop one is at the bottom of a great glass bowl of sky.  It’s a fine place for kite-flying and sky-admiring.   I know why there’s a hill there, but I bet lots of people don’t—they don’t know there are trash and tunnel-parts under romping in pond

The other day I took a little walk in the park.  The snowy grass was thick with robins, and a cheerful dog galloped to the wetland and then romped after some runners.   Winter’s almost over, and the air was moist and sweet.   Gulls still circle and call over this bit of land.  

I think now even the Native Americans who would have used that wetland for their own purposes would admire what it and its surroundings have become.  Maybe they might even stand on the hill summit to look at the weather.   I do.


  • Susan Heavner 06:20pm, 04/01/2013

    Just love this site Hillary.  I’m so looking forward to reading your future posts.  Thanks for sharing with all of us.

  • Laurel 06:52pm, 04/01/2013

    I love it when good things like that happen! Must have been interesting to watch the progression over the years smile

  • Barbara Powell 06:56am, 04/03/2013

    Fascinating history of Danehy Park. I had known it as a dump, but never knew what was really underneath when my children played soccer there years ago.

  • Esther Leisher 07:45pm, 04/03/2013

    What a wonderful website, love those pictures!
    Wish you had included a map so I could locate the dump-/park & marvel at what is possible in unexpected places.


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