This former New Jersey toxic waste dump will become a memorial to COVID-19 victims

A Riverfront Place of Remembrance

This former New Jersey toxic waste dump will become a memorial to COVID-19 victims

Located in the shadow of the Pulaski Skyway in a once highly contaminated industrial zone, Jersey City’s newest park will open up the Hackensack River waterfront for active and passive outdoor recreation while also paying tribute to local lives claimed by coronavirus. (Courtesy Jersey City)

Officials in Jersey City, New Jersey, have announced long-awaited formal plans to transform a rehabilitated Superfund site along the Hackensack River into a 12-acre public park that is set to include walking paths, a pollinator garden, and a dense grove of trees that will serve as a memorial to the over 500 Jersey City residents who have lost their lives to the coronavirus.

The friends and families of many of these residents, including late city council member Michael Yun, were not able to hold proper funerals or related services due to safety limitations on group gatherings.

As noted by the New York Times, the park will be one of the first in the country to incorporate a COVID-19 memorial.

concept plan of a park in new jersey; skyway park
The 12-acre park site plan. (Courtesy Jersey City)

“Skyway Park is the latest step in expanding our parks infrastructure and bringing further investment to the city’s west side,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven M. Fulop in a December 3 press statement. “Within the new park, a tree will be planted for each of the over 500 residents who were robbed of their life and robbed of a proper farewell due to this pandemic to give their friends and family a place where they can reflect and remember their lost loved ones.”

Located near the 3.5-mile-long Pulaski Skyway causeway-bridge, the new $10 million green space will also feature a pedestrian span that, per the city, “utilizes the design vernacular” of the (functionally obsolete) 80-year-old infrastructural landmark while linking the memorial area to various other sections of the park. Nestled next to the pedestrian bridge, which crosses a site-bisecting stream known as the Sip Avenue Ditch, at the entrance to the grove will be a plaza flanked by a Memorial Wall inscribed with the names of those lost to the virus.

wildflowers and a pedestrian bridge in an urban park
The park’s pedestrian echoes the design of the Pulaski Skyway, a neighboring steel deck truss cantilever bridge that spans the Meadowlands and two rivers. (Courtesy Jersey City)

While the COVID-19 memorial is obviously a relatively recent addition to the overall vision of the park, the transformation of the notorious PJP Landfill site has been years in the making. The dump was the site of unchecked illegal dumping of industrial toxic waste from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. In 1982, the 87-acre site was added to New Jersey’s Superfund site list and was designated as a priority the following year. Remediation work, lead by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, kicked off shortly thereafter including the capping of the landfill in 1985. In addition to the new parkland, the once-forsaken riverfront parcel, acquired by the city in 2012 for $12.7 million, is also home to new warehouses and commercial businesses that have been established over the last several years.

Most longtime residents and those who traveled frequently through the area in the 1970s and ’80s perhaps best remember the landfill site for its buried chemical drums that were prone to sudden explosions—events that would spew “acrid smoke so thick it could snarl traffic” on the nearby Pulaski Skyway according to the Times. (There are also, not too surprisingly, Jimmy Hoffa burial site rumors attached to the old dump.)

a grove of trees and walking trail
View of the Skyway Park’s north path and memorial grove. (Courtesy Jersey City)

As noted by the Times, Skyway Park is the newest element of a waterfront walkway along the Hackensack River that, when fully realized, will stretch from Secaucus to Bayonne in the south. “Turning this polluted superfund site into a public park will provide another place for people to gain access to the Hackensack River,” said Bill Sheehan of Hackensack Riverkeeper.

Hackensack Riverkeeper was one of the organizations that joined Mayor Fulop and city council members at last’s Thursday unveiling ceremony alongside the Jersey City Parks Coalition and the Skyway Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that describes itself as a group of Hudson County residents “dedicated to the vision of transforming what was once one of America’s most notorious urban toxic dumps into a beautiful natural oasis.”

people reading a granite memorial wall
Memorial Plaza at Skywalk Park. (Courtesy Jersey City)
people walking along a grass-lined trail near a bridge
Skyway Park’s waterfront-activating riverfront path. (Courtesy Jersey City)

“We are especially enthusiastic about giving people in the surrounding neighborhoods access to the Hackensack River and eventually to a greenway along its shores,” said Conversancy chair Steve Krinsky.

AN has reached to press representatives with Jersey City for further information about the firms involved with the site planning and landscape design. We will update this article when we hear back.

Skyway Park is expected to be completed and opened to the public next summer or fall.