Astoria Mountain Park: An idea whose time has come.

Published on: March 10th, 2014 | Last updated: December 12, 2015 Written by:

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.

Update: 3:03pm
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.

16 responses to “Astoria Mountain Park: An idea whose time has come.”

  1. DigitalOJ says:

    I heard it is made from dirt that was excavated to make the LGA runways, makes sense due to location. There used to be dogs up there, sometimes they’d fuck with us, others not. The back is super steep and if climbed down will only end up in sludge next to the sewage plant, not pleasant. Watch out for the beehives… I knew a kid who stepped on one up there and got 92 stings. I was trailing on my bike up there once with 2 other people and we got followed home by a rikers helicopter.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi – I love this idea, probably not a good idea to call the Gothamist writer a dumbass though. They were a little harsh with you, but they also just gave your idea free publicity! Go with that! Don’t antagonize!

  3. Control says:

    Any publicity is indeed great publicity. The entire point of this idea is to stir some discourse on what should or should not happen with one of the only green spaces in the area. Their argument that it smells of jet fuel and sewage around there is a defeatist mindset. I’ve never smelt jet fuel over there, and that sewage plant down the street needs to be rebuilt so it’s not such a bad neighbor that drags down property values.

  4. Erik Baard says:

    I completely agree that it should be preserved. I’d go further, seeking that it be protected as a “Forever Wild” habitat, without recreational paths. But we clearly agree more than we disagree.

  5. sajh says:

    Why would it makes sense to build a park where there is no immedidate large population to utilize it. That area is mostly utilitize and mannufacturing and not that far from Astoria Park as it is. Sure, it wouldnt cost much to turn this into a park but then parks require lighting and maintenance (trash collection and once and a while a police patrol). So this park which would benefit very few would basically be throwing money away and adding maintenance costs to the city. It should either be developed for further tax expanding the city’s tax base or it should be used as land for government swing space which is what they are currently using (there is value in having extra government land that they can use instead of having to pay enormously for gov use on private lands).

  6. CleanAstoria says:

    A park is a wonderful idea. It’s a shame that entire waterfront is wasted on sewage plants, factories and other grossness instead of views and green space. Obviously waterfront property is limited in NYC – why continue wasting it away? I’m all for a park. Back in the day, that general area used to have a pier with an amusement park! I believe it was torn down in 1915 to build what is now La Guardia airport. Yippie. Anyway, kudos to you for your idea and getting the word out. You should reach out to The Greater Astoria Historical Society and “Friends of Steinway Mansion”, which neighbors the mountain – I’m sure you can gain some strong support there.

  7. Control says:

    sajh. No. Just no.

    Astoria park is far away on foot. Maintenance cost would be as low as you described, and for a city with as huge of a budget as NYC has, there’s absolutely not one reason in hell it should be ‘developed’ to expand our tax base. NYC is over saturated with undertaxed ‘development’.

    Queens has a population of over 2 million – and rising. Several thousand reside close enough to the park that they would use it. The industrial area is 1 block buffer – there are hundreds of homes right there along 20th ave to the south, and to the east. Those people have NO PUBLIC GREEN SPACE.

    There is absolutely no valid reasons in hell I can think of for ‘developing’ this property. We need more green space, more trees, and more clean air.

  8. DigitalOJ says:

    Sajh,

    Shore Blvd / Astoria park is approximately 25 blocks away.

    There is a 1 block buffer of industrial businesses, not an entire industrial neighborhood like certain parts of Maspeth.

  9. OldTime says:

    We use to play there in the late 70’s early 80’s. It was an active dump then with common truck traffic via the sites northwest corner ramp to the top to drop material. The truck as I recall were never DoS and the workers we encountered seemed to be private and non-city workers. The rock face on the southern side was placed in the 70’s to prevent garbage slides from occurring as a makeshift retaining wall. There was no vegetation back then and the ground was always spongy like decomposed jeans or cardboard material. Methane was common then (not that we knew what it was) but the larger question is if material was being dumped till the mid 80’s on city property, and no entity seems to have knowledge of such, why was material being dumped? By whom? And who was getting paid for it?
    It was without a doubt referred to by the locals as the dumps as we lived only a few blocks from it and as recourceful inner city kids found a use for it and a way to make it useful. It would actually be a sight for it to become an actual park 40 years after we as kids established it as our play area back then.

  10. Michael says:

    Great idea for the space!! It should be turned into a green space, park. I grew up here in Astoria and as a child we would go on adventures….. I grew up 30 blocks away from the hill, but we made it to the hill to explore and let our imaginations run wild. I as a child have great memories of our adventures and the hill, especially the view. Once a green space is gone, it’s gone. I feel it should be preserved and enjoyed. As for the tax base argument…… c’mon!!!!! Really!!!! NYC has more than enough tax revenue, it’s the handling of it that’s the issue. NYC doesn’t need more tax revenue, it needs to give back to those who generated these taxes, the community. No matter what, your taxes will rise……park or no park.

  11. Control says:

    I grew up further away, but even then we all knew the area as ‘the dumps’. We’d go there on July 4 to blow off fireworks. I recall it being really overgrown though in the late 70s, at least along 20th ave. I was young at the time so my memory of it might be a bit off.

    I suspect if this trash dumping you say happened – it probably wasn’t legal.

    At the very least someone should find out what is in the ground there. If there’s still trash in there, then why the hell do we still have a landfill in Astoria?! There’s a huge oil spill from the 1950s under Greenpoint – but they’re cleaning that up. If this site needs cleaning – why isn’t it happening?

  12. DigitalOJ says:

    …Hence the name “The Dumps”… Fat Tony did it… why do you think no one came foward in the early 2000’s when hefty rewards were going out for such easy surveilance to catch the culprits dumping… cause it’s Fat Tony’s turf. Nobody said nuffin’ !

  13. John says:

    Grew up a few blocks from there. Used to climb around with friends on weekends almost 60 years ago. When Queens was being built the dirt from all the homes going up was dumped there. I remember dump trucks going up and down Steinway Street daily full of rocks and dirt.

  14. Thomas Rafferty says:

    Starting Monday May 9th 2016 the new LaGuardia Airport employee parking lot will be located down the dead end street on Berrian Blvd just east of the 45th entrance to Bowery Bay treatment plant. They are making a parking lot for 1000 employee cars. It will be located up the hill on top of “Ingraham’s Mountain”. It will be utilized 24/7 and full size shuttle buses will be going in and out of the entrance continuously throughout the day and night.
    The contact person for this new project is Chris Rhoads (LGA Landside Operations Manager) email crhoads@panynj.gov or by phone at 718-533-3627.

  15. FlyGuy says:

    Here’s the actual truth. The inside poop. The Port Authority is closing the LGA employee parking lot (10E) in early May 2016 and relocated the employee parking area to Ingraham’s Mountain, transporting the workers back to the terminal buildings on shuttle buses. So now you know why they leveled off the top 20 feet of the area. For a crappy parking lot!

  16. EMSHighway says:

    The mountain will be utilized for airport employee parking as the parking garage in front of the Central Terminal Building will be demolished so a new terminal can be built. Delta Airlines will also be building a new Terminal C and D. An AirTrain is also scheduled from Citi Field along the middle of the GCP and into the airport. By 2022 there will be a whole new airport.

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    Joseph Anastasio

    Design & History nerd, open space & infrastructure advocate. 
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