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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Virginia Beach is one of the seven cities that make up an area known as America’s First Region, settled by the British in 1607. The city has many historic sites. Among its 208 parks is one that has an amazing history of its own. Mount Trashmore Park, the most popular park in the city, used to be a rubbish dump that served the entire municipality.

Burying rubbish is not possible at Virginia Beach as it sits on a water table just 6-8 feet below the ground. Consequently, trash was being disposed of at the site by means of a semi-open trench and cover process, but it was costing $75,000 a year and could not have been added to indefinitely. Roland E. Dorer, who was director of the Virginia Department of Health, Insect and Vector Control, came up with a plan to convert the open trench into a mountain of trash and create a recreational park.

The plan included an amphitheater, a lake, and a walking and jogging track, at an estimated cost of $192,674. Work on the project started in 1966. Problems were encountered with odors, and with gas due to the creation of landfill gas during decomposition of rubbish. About half of landfill gas is methane, which is very flammable and can explode if left to build up. Seven seepage points were dug into the landfill to allow the gas to escape. There has been only one fire at the site due to gas, in 1972. The odor problem was resolved by taking the waste on conveyor belts from the pit to the mound during rain. Adding soil and water to the landfill eliminated odor.

No more trash was dumped at the site after 1971. The “mountain” was compacted and soil was laid on top. The result was a recreational reserve on a pile of 640,000 tons of trash 60 feet high. The park opened in 1973. It has the distinction of being the world’s first park built on a waste landfill. The mountain of trash is the highest spot in the city. Located eight miles west of downtown Virginia Beach, the park is 165 acres in area and more than 800 feet long. Some people liken it to a green volcano. The park got its name when residents started calling it Mount Trashmore during its construction. The name is a take on South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore. It was only a nickname but it stuck and became official.

As an April Fool’s Day joke in 1992, local radio announcer Henry Del Toro warned that Mount Trashmore was about to explode due to a build up of methane gas. There were numerous 911 calls, parents wouldn’t let their children out, and some people fled the area. Despite it being found to be hoax, three hollow flag poles were soon installed to act as vents just in case. Lightning once struck one of the flags, causing it to catch fire. In 1991, residents formed themselves into a huge American flag at the park when troops came back from the Gulf War.

Mount Trashmore Park is popular for picnics, with 15 shelters for this purpose. It has a number of playgrounds, including one called Kid’s Cove which children helped to design and was built by volunteers on top of the landfill. There are four volleyball courts, a basketball court, and three horseshoe pits. It has several walking trails, including a two mile long Perimeter Trail, a 1.5 mile Lake Trail, and a 1.3 mile Mountain Trail. Slope-flying is possible on the landfill slopes, which are 30-45 degrees. It is often quite windy at the top, making kite flying popular. July 4 festivities are conducted at the park and the amphitheater soon fills up. There are restrooms at the park too.

The park has two artificial lakes, the smaller Windsor Lake and the larger 52 acre Trashmore Lake located at the landfill base and feeding into Chesapeake Bay. They are stocked with fish and fishing is permitted, although some visitors are reluctant to fish given the park’s background as a dump. Boating is not possible as the lake is too shallow.

A number of professional skateboarders have been attracted to Mount Trashmore Skate Park, built in 1978. This includes Tony Hawk, who has won many competitions and was the first skater to land a 900, or 2.5 revolutions in the air. The 24,000 square foot skate park has a street course with a seven foot deep bowl. It also has a vert ramp 13 feet tall and 40 feet wide used for competition. A fire did extensive damage to the skate park in August 2006 and it was rebuilt by March 2007. The skate park can be used by skateboarders and inline skaters as well as BMX riders. It opens at 8am and helmets are required. Users have to sign in and obtain a wristband.

Mount Trashmore Park is the city’s most popular park with more than one million visitors each year. The park’s address is 310 Edwin Drive and there is plenty of parking. It is next to the I-264 at exit 17. If you are visiting Virginia Beach, you might like to add this amazing park to your schedule.