Field Trip: Freshkills Park

Freshkills Park is not yet open to the public, but it’s so amazing that I wanted to include it here. You can take a scheduled tour however, and I recommend it. See below.

A friend is moving out of the city, and as his swan song he is trying to visit a park he’s never been to in each of the five boroughs — kind of like a Breakfast at Tiffany’s for parkies. And since I am always down for a park field trip, I signed on to the trip to Freshkills on Staten Island — the park being built over decades of the city’s garbage.

It’s breathtaking. Not because it’s beautiful (like the New York Botanical Garden) or masterful (like Pier 26) or super fun (like Brooklyn Bridge Park) but because it is empty. It’s 2200 acres of vast rolling grassy hills — mounds, in fact — with the civilization that surrounds it reduced to miniature structures on the horizon. When it is finished it will be the second largest park in the city, coming only behind Pelham Bay Park.

The potential for park-lovers is enormous and exciting.

We were given a tour by Freshkills Park Alliance director Eloise Hirsh, who spins her four-wheel-drive Volvo around the place like a NASCAR driver. The Alliance is the park’s advocate and builder, born when the city stopped adding garbage to the landfill there in 2001. With the decision to shut down Fresh Kills, the Municipal Art Society collaborated with the City of New York to sponsor an international design competition, run by the Department of City Planning.

The process resulted in a Draft Master Plan, designed by landscape architecture firm Field Operations (who are also doing the Gansevoort Peninsula in Hudson River Park as we speak). The park is defined by four landfill mounds, with tidal creeks running through the center of the landscape. An expansive network of paths, recreational waterways and park drives will make the place accessible. Since 2006, it has been a part of the city Parks Department. Everything there is built over the mounds of garbage; they are still monitoring the gasses released from their decomposition.

There are little sections along the edges open to the public now: Schmul Park, the Owl Hollow Soccer Fields and the New Springville Greenway near the Staten Island Mall. Phase one of North Park — 21 acres — is under construction now and scheduled to be finished this fall, though there will be a state approval process before people are allowed in.

There are ways to see parts of the park in one-mile walk sections. There are some coming up on Fridays all of next month; see the calendar here. They also host kayak tours, which is on my bucket list. And then there’s the water tours aboard one of Classic Harbor Line’s yachts, where you go with AIANY and alliance planners to tour the park plus the Kill Van Kull and the Arthur Kill. Those are $86.

By car: Driving is definitely the quickest – 40 minutes either through Brooklyn or through New Jersey to the meeting spot for tours — in front of the LA Fitness in a strip mall at 350 Wild Ave.
By ferry + bike / bus: This would be a lot of fun, but for sure bring a lock. It’s a 50-minute bike ride from the ferry terminal at St. George; the bus takes the same time.
By ferry + bike through NJ: I have ridden over the Bayonne Bridge and it is spectacular. This is a solid ride — 1:20 — and it includes mostly regular side streets, but they are quiet and residential. Take the ferry from BPC to Jersey City to start. For a bonus detour, ride through Liberty Park at the start.

We did not stop for food while there, but if you drive all that way, when in Rome get pizza. Mona Lisa is the closest to Freshkills; Denino’s is closer to the ferry.



  1. Fascinating story of sustainability. Looks so fresh and beautiful.

  2. Not only did this “dump” become a park, it is sacred ground. Debris from the towers collapse was brought here to be sifted through by volunteers. Neighbors rallied to feed the volunteers. Many families received priceless items from their lost members, lie rings, watches, wallets, ID cards.