On the northeast border of Astoria, there is a forest covered urban mountain whose origins are shrouded in mystery. This would make a great location for a very unique new park. Unfortunately though, this forest and ‘mountain’ may be bulldozed soon.
Weighing in at 17 acres in size, and 86 feet in height, what I call ‘The Astoria Mountain’ isn’t an actual mountain. It is a man-made, forest covered property with steep inclines that push it higher than any other structure within the immediate neighborhood.
It is one of the last ‘undeveloped’ parcels of land located in an area that is woefully devoid of actual park space (by actual park space – I mean one with trees and nature – there are two drab concrete playgrounds nearby). What’s more – this property is owned by New York City (and leased to the Port Authority) – making the hardest part of creating new parks – the acquisition of property – a moot point. Better still, it is already covered in beautiful trees. This land is ripe for becoming a park – so ripe that the powers that be will likely never allow it. I’ll get to their plans for this property in a sec. (Also, Remember St. Saviours – a similar forest covered property that was bulldozed instead of becoming a park).
Where did this mountain come from?
The origins of this mountain are somewhat shrouded in mystery. Early aerial images and topographic maps show the land as being flat and marshy. Insiders at the Port Authority refer to it as ‘Ingraham’s Mountain’, and say it was created with material excavated during the construction of the third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel in 1936. However, According to a 2012 DEP report, (“New York City Evaluation of New and Emerging Waste Management and Recycling Technologies Phase 3: Demonstration Project Siting Study and Preliminary Investigation” – Section 4.6) the city government doesn’t know the origins of this massive rocky hill and assume it was once a landfill (which is supported by local gossip – we used to call it ‘the dumps’ in the 1970s & 1980s).
So is it just rock piled up here, or is there trash too? The only way to tell for sure what is in the ground is to drill test holes, though to the best of my knowledge no drilling has ever been performed. Perhaps the port authority has documentation on what is in the ground here – though if they do, they’re not sharing that information. The trees on this property are – so far as I can see – all native, having naturally grown here in the decades after the mountain was created.
Current plans for this property (hint – none of them are good)
Unfortunately, it seems the Port Authority wants to level at least 20-30 feet off the top of the mountain and create a ‘staging area’ for runway extension work that will be performed at LaGuardia airport. In the process, I’m sure the vast majority of the trees on this property would be cut down. Meanwhile, the DEP report suggests the land could be used for an enlarged sewage treatment plant (they have an existing one down the block – why not build it there like they did in Greenpoint?). Thus you have two government entities vying for the use of public owned property without any community input. A potential scenario could be the Port Authority clearing the trees and grading the top of the mountain for their temporary use in the runway expansion project, while turning the property back over to the city afterwards for the construction of an enlarged sewage treatment plant afterwards.
A potential scenario could be the Port Authority clearing the trees and grading the top of the mountain for their temporary use in the runway expansion project, while turning the property back over to the city afterwards for the construction of an enlarged sewage treatment plant afterwards.
Instead, why not make it a park?
My vision for this proposed park would be a far nicer asset to the community. We could retain as many of the existing trees as possible, while building paths through them to mimic the experience of walking through a deep forest. Depending how crazy you might want to get, facilities and a fire tower could be constructed to rise above the tree line, offering a panoramic view of Manhattan, the Bronx, and yes, even the notorious Rikers island. The whole thing could built for 2-5 million, depending what facilities are added. For a city that routinely has a budget of 61 billion, this is a tiny sum to create a legacy for future generations to enjoy.
For cynics, the park could be closed dusk to dawn, as most NYC parks already are. This isn’t 1970s NYC anymore. We can have nice things, but only if we demand them. The High Line is a great example. Heck, The Willow lake trail reopened to the public last summer and did not become a magnet for crime. I’m sure the NYPD would be willing to slap some pole cameras around it like they’ve done on Ditmars and Steinway (not exactly hotbeds for crime).
The Port Authority can find someplace else for their staging area, if they even need it (maybe barges moored at or near the worksite?). I’m unconvinced they need to bulldoze this property, destroying trees and trucking out large qualities of rock and soil (to where?) just to create a blighted staging area and stream of dump truck traffic through local residential streets.
Cynics might also cry that it is near a sewage plant that often smells pretty foul. That is a defeatist mindset. The DEP should clean up that sewage plant and control odors as they have done with their Greenpoint plant.
Even if the land is actual landfill, it is worth noting the State Island landfill is now a park. I haven’t heard anyone complaining that it was a bad idea to place a park on it.
So are you for or against green space?
The time is now.
This is NYC owned property, in Queens – where parks are scarce and the population is growing. We, the people of Queens, should raise our voices and demand something far better. A new and very unique park would be an actual asset to not just the community, but to the city on a whole. A city woefully devoid of parkland when compared to other cities across the globe. If you feel the same, feel free to contact the mayors office or your local elected official (the city council representative for Astoria is Costa Constantinides. Or hell, just email me below and if enough people think this is a good idea I’ll get us organized.
It seems the hipster news service, I mean Gothamist, picked up this story and mocked it on the grounds that Northeast Queens really needs a parking lot for construction vehicles or another sewage facility. We have plenty of those around here already. Also it is more likely to be a pile of rock from under the hudson river than a “beautiful pile of garbage”. Even if it is an actual landfill, you do realize the Staten Island Landfill is now a park – right?
Thanks for linking though – my ultimate goal is to raise awareness of what the government is planning for this long dormant property so those that actually live in this community can have some say in it. I rather put a strange idea forward if it stirs discourse than to sit by and watch one more NYC Green space be destroyed.
Update: Dec. 2015
The Port Authority moved ahead with their project, slaughtering dozens of native trees and shaving 10-20 feet of rock and soil off the top of the hill, likely using it as fill at LaGuardia Airport (thus proving Gothamist’s idiot reporter 100% wrong – the ‘landfill’ is just dirt and rock. Who knew gothamists publishers are so anti-green space?).
Despite some good press, I only received one email from a person also interested in doing a park conversion on this land. One person out of an Astoria population that numbers tens of thousands of people. I found that to be a pretty discouraging sign. I am one person, and to pull off a project like this, we would need a huge amount of support. I blame community apathy.
The land remains owned by the government, so there is some hope that some day someone will come along and pull an Edison, stealing the idea and running with it. Time will tell what becomes of this property, though with community apathy what it is, my expectations are low, and condos, or perhaps shelters or an expansion of Rikers island remain possibilities.