National park officials are looking to the site of the former Merrick landfill, now littered with wildflowers and offering ocean views, as a model to convert a shuttered landfill into a park in Brooklyn.
Hempstead Town officials Thursday gave a tour of Norman J. Levy Park, the backdrop behind the town's garbage disposal center at 1600 Merrick Road, which was closed and converted into a park 25 years ago.
The National Park Service and officials and representatives with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection are seeking to transform the former Fountain and Pennsylvania avenues landfills just south of the Belt Parkway into a similar green space.
The Brooklyn region is part of the National Park's 26,000-acre Gateway Recreation Area, which includes Jamaica Bay, Sandy Hook in New Jersey and portions of Staten Island. The city's DEP is responsible for maintaining and monitoring work with the same Syosset-based engineer firm, Lockwood, Kessler & Bartlett, that designed Levy Park.
"There are no landfills in the national park system, so we're really using this as a 21st-century landscape," National Parks Commissioner Joshua Laird said. "The park service is focusing on a presence in urban areas."
Levy Park has also been a model for delegations from China and Argentina on converting parks, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said.
The landfills are converted after the DEP caps them with material such as a plastic or vinyl tarp over garbage waste to prevent water or contaminates from reaching aquifers. The cap also prevents methane gas from leaking.
Levy Park opened in 2000 after it was capped and closed a decade earlier. Murray said converting the landfill into a 52-acre park for $15 million was $42 million cheaper than the state Department of Environmental Conservation's original cap and closure plan.
The park includes three miles of walking trails, a kayak launch and a 500-foot fishing pier facing Jones Beach. The top of the preserve is covered in a plateau of wildflowers and speckled with Eagle Scout projects that point to the Manhattan skyline.
Park officials have attempted to make the preserve environmentally sound by using Nigerian dwarf goats instead of gas mowers to control overgrowth. The town has adopted Guinea Fowl to control ticks and insects instead of using pesticides.
The park also added a kayak launch and reopened Meadow Brook, which was closed when the landfill closed. The addition of woodland and marsh areas has attracted several species to return, including red foxes, diamondback terrapins, egrets and cordgrass plants.
"One of the unique components of Levy Park is that we were able to reclaim five acres of wetlands," Murray said.
Pamela Edwards of Freeport said she lives across from the park and now walks the trails every day. "I grew up watching mountains of garbage grow. Now I come here every day," Edwards said. "Other places should be doing the same thing."