It can be difficult to be good to ourselves or the environment in a world filled with deadlines and busy shuffling to work, school and appointments. We are lucky though, when we need a break from the rush, to have parks and wildlife areas where we can escape. Parks where one might find some solace, a quiet respite, or simply hear one’s thoughts while cycling or watching campfire embers die down. Awesomely, there are parks where these realities mingle–parks that were once damaged by human negligence, but, through human work and diligence, are now places people can gather to reflect, unwind and enjoy nature. Here are a few rehabilitated parks where hard work paid off!
Fox Point State Park, Delaware
The first rehabilitated park we would like to share is Fox Point. It is a 55-acre state park more than 50 years in the making. The property that the park now occupies was once part of the Delaware River. Through the end of the 1800s and into the mid-1900s, the Pennsylvania Railroad dumped waste and sewage sludge into the river as it sought to increase industrial land along its right-of-way, essentially burying the river for its own benefit. In 1958, however, S. Marston Fox began lobbying to turn the land over to the people of Delaware, and spent the rest of his life carrying that torch.Through decades of legal battles and environmental remediation, Fox Point State Park is open to day-use activities like picnicking, rollerblading, biking, volleyball, and generally taking in the sights of the Delaware River. The hard work poured into Fox’s vision of a “window on the river” is part of the experience today, one can learn about the park’s history and how the property was rehabilitated while taking in views of Philadelphia and the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and strolling along that same river that inspired northern Delawareans to rally around Fox’s dream for shared access to nature.
Route 66 State Park, Missouri
Route 66 State Park in Missouri, much like its name suggests, showcases some of the history of the highway that captured imaginations as the “Main Street of America” in the middle of the last century. The park is outfitted with an intact 1935 roadhouse (which serves as its visitor’s center) and stuffed with exhibits that commemorate the roadway that John Steinbeck called “The Mother Road.”
But to only point out the park’s proximity to an historic road misses the heart of its complicated history.Beyond its roadhouse and visitor’s center, the 419-acre, day-use park is primarily composed of trails that meander through flatland and swamp where there was once the town of Times Beach. Times Beach was a town established (through a newspaper promotion) in 1925. At the end of 1982, a devastating flood drove hundreds from their homes just as dioxin contamination (caused by tainted waste oil which had been distributed on the town’s roads to reduce dust) was confirmed. The Environmental Protection Agency recommended that no one return to inhabit the town, and the federal government and the state of Missouri bought out the land. State and federal agencies immediately set about cleaning up the contamination.
While not downplaying the hardship endured by those families, the sweetness at Route 66 State Park is undeniable—after more than a decade of rehabilitation, the park is not only healthy for human visitors, but the native swamps and attending wildlife have blossomed. Birds and frogs and deer provide a superb backdrop to outdoor recreation, where you can take a long bike ride, or learn about the ways people crossed the continent not even a hundred years ago. And all that adventure and education is just a short jot from St. Louis!
Freshkills Park, Staten Island
When its rehabilitation is complete, Freshkills Park on Staten Island will be nearly three times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park and the largest park developed in New York City in a hundred years. An impressive feat of environmental recuperation given that, from 1947 to 2001, Freshkills served New York City and its surrounding metropolitan area as a landfill.
Today, the park is characterized by a sprawl of native grasses and brush, wetlands and gentle blue kills, and sweeping sky views that are unusual in the city. Some of its completed rehabilitated segments, Schmul Park and Owl Hollow Fields, already serve the nearby residents of Staten Island and anyone else who wants to make their way to the island. On special occasions, like the recent Discovery Day, hundreds of acres that are still in development are open to visitors.Discovery Day speaks to the heart of the space, with free bicycles to borrow, and hour-long Audubon tours to teach guests about the wildlife that has thrived since the landfill was capped and the Park Plan has been implemented. Freshkills Park is a prime example of how a landscape can be brought back from the very brink of pollution, and grow into a green space we all can share and enjoy.
Keep Up the Good Work!
It’s important to reflect on how we interact with the world around us. It’s not always pleasant to think about our actions contributing to pollution, but being honest about it can empower us to make better choices. And, when it comes right down to it, the land that gets reclaimed from the clutches of pollution is just as precious as that which has always been pristine, if only because it speaks to the healing qualities embedded in the determination to make something better for ourselves and future generations.
Even with fall upon us, it’s not too late in the year to volunteer to clean up, or to just take some time for yourself in your favorite park! No better way to find out more about the parks near you than Pocket Ranger® mobile apps, that’ll get you out and on to exploration!