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Former wasteland, future ecological wonderland

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Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Ariel Sharon Park, once Israel’s biggest trash heap, is an example of how to take an environmental hazard and turn it into a national asset.

Once the country’s largest dumping grounds, the Hiriya Landfill between Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv was piled high with Israeli refuse from 1952 to 1998, when it was closed down. Elevated to 200 feet, the site takes up more than 2,000 acres.

Now this eyesore is being transformed into an ecological wonderland, the Ariel Sharon Park. The overall development plan includes an amphitheater, restaurants, cafes, sports fields and educational sites to teach about society and the environment. When finished, it will cover an area three times the size of New York City’s Central Park.

Recently, about 25 acres of the new Israeli park were opened to the public via passes that must be ordered in advance. From the peak of the former dump, visitors can see a view of the city of Tel Aviv and the outlines of the rest of the planned site. Starting at an area close to the Ben-Gurion International Airport, Ariel Sharon Park will offer a long, continuous belt of green that stretches to inside Tel Aviv, connecting a number of established green belts and existing parks. It offers hope to a blighted environmental catastrophe.

Named after former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, an enthusiastic backer of the idea, the park is expected to cost a total of $250 million. A lot more has gone into it than bulldozing and razing the landfill site to beautify it. Its land and waterways had to be rehabilitated, and a functional recycling center was built on the site with a host of environmentally advanced technologies, including biogas collection to power its lights. Strict safety standards are being employed as its hiking and biking trails and play areas are built.

An electrifying ride to the top

Moran Tzarfati, spokesperson for the project, says that so far, “We have opened the first part of the park, 100 dunams, among a total size of 8,000 dunams. These 100 dunams are on the top of the park, and this includes a balcony overseeing the entire area of the Dan district and the most major part of the Ariel Sharon Park.”

For now, people can only reach the park by car. When they get there, they can then board an electric shuttle car to take them up the road to the top of the mountain.

It’s hard to say when the entire park will be finished, but the idea is to open it up in stages, little by little. “Eight thousands dunams [2,000 acres] is difficult to develop at once,” says Tzarfati. “The mountain itself is about 500 or 600 dunams alone. We will open it in parts. Soon, we will open another entrance to the park.”

Esty Appelbaum-Polani, chairwoman and member of the park’s board of directors, says: “The site firmly places the State of Israel at the forefront of ecological protection, as a first-rate environmental project. In this sense, Israel is creating a breakthrough by taking an environmental hazard and turning it into a national asset.”