Here’s a Friday morning outing you’ve probably never considered: A trip to the dump. But not just any dump. The Hiria dump – an 80-meter high blight on the landscape, which no commuter traveling on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway could miss.
Now, Hiria is being transformed from its formerly stinky state into the Ariel Sharon National Park (alternatively known as the Ayalon Park). A group of 20 of us recently trekked out to Hiria on an organized excursion. What we learned was a fascinating insight into Israeli history and ecological renewal.
Opened in 1952, the Hiria dump represents over 50 years of Israeli garbage, everything from plastic bottles and organic refuse to the leftovers from countless home renovations – tables, chairs, chunks of walls – plus bicycle tires, electrical cables, old baby carriages, and much more, all of which have been tastefully fashioned into artistic “found object” mobiles dangling from the roof of Hiria’s funky, yet functional, visitor’s center (which itself was once a huge compost shed).
The trash kept on piling up until Hiria was finally closed in 1998, after birds flying overhead in search of choice tidbits threatened planes at nearby Ben Gurion Airport. The garbage still flows through Hiria, but now it’s just a transit station. Small trucks dump their contents into a vast sea of refuge where it’s sorted and loaded into larger trucks which ship it all to a new dump located near the southern Israeli city of Beersheva.
Hiria, nevertheless, remains an imposing site. At 2,000 acres, the dump is three times the size of New York’s Central Park. The garbage that created the Hiria hill now sports green grass and low shrubs, hiding its tawdrier past. Our tour took us to the top of that hill which no longer stinks but does sink. Years of decomposing organic waste have created methane gas which makes the entire grounds unstable. That gas is now being pumped out and sold to a nearby textile factory.
We drove in our mini-bus to the top of Hiria, from where our group was treated to what must be the best view in town: a 360-degree panorama of the entire Gush Dan region. That lookout point is at the center of Hiria’s ambitious reclamation plans which envisions a network of bike trails (10 kilometers of which already exist), shaded picnic areas, a small zoo and recreational pond, and a country club with a swimming pool and theater situated at the peak of the soon to be former dump.
Hiria’s planners call the Sharon Park “Israel’s green future” and boast with pride that the site will “prove that an environmental hazard can be turned into a national treasure – one that will radiate to the world Israel’s new green face.”
The park will include recycling plants for tires and building materials and an environmental education center, in addition to the meandering Ayalon and Shapirim streams which wind their way around the outskirts of Hiria before flushing out into the Mediterranean Sea. The new Tel Aviv light rail, currently in the planning stages, will reach the western edge of the park.
Even the carefully tended flower garden near the visitor’s center is part of the reclamation process: a self-sustaining system that treats sewage with the help of bacteria from the roots of the plants and breaks down toxins so that the resulting water can be used for irrigation.
The park is named after former prime minister Ariel Sharon who approved creation of the park in 2003. Thousands of students have already toured the facility; a hike through the park in 2005 attracted 8,000 participants. Hiria’s planners hope that 50,000 visitors a year will visit the park for educational and leisure purposes.
Despite the positive plans, Israel still lags behind the US and Europe in terms of recycling options. Except for bottles, paper and batteries, everything else gets collected into the same bins and is ultimately dumped together.
Construction of Park Sharon is expected to be completed in 2020 although portions are already open.
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