AS DEADLINES GO, 2026 seems pretty far off. A kid born today will probably be starting his or her sophomore year in high school that fall, assuming we still have schools. If students do occupy local classrooms 15 years from now, maybe some will discuss the science, politics and economics of the Hudson dump.
I didn’t have this date marked on my calendar, but it came up this week with the release of a document called a “Concept Master Plan” for the Hudson North Bay Recreation and Natural Area. The plan, which runs over 30 pages plus 20 pages of maps and charts and a CD with much more data, was prepared by the Columbia Land Conservancy. It’s an ambitious set of ideas for opening trails through about 117 acres at the northwest side of the City of Hudson.
The plan addresses not only the land surface but what lies beneath 27 of those acres: piles of garbage from two decades of dumping. Fifteen years ago, after the dumping had ended, the whole mess was buried. The county now owns the land where the trash is entombed and the state requires that we keep a close eye on the site for 30 years to ensure that all the household toxins and other nasty stuff we’ve thrown away stays right where it is.
Except for the pipes that vent gas from the rotting garbage, you’d hardly know what lies beneath the rolling hills at the upper end of North Second Street. From the meadows you can see the whole front range of the Catskills and an expanse of the river. Below are the tidal wetlands of the North Bay created by construction of the riverside railroad tracks in the middle of the 19th century.
The North Bay Recreation Natural Area connects the small Charles A. Williams Park in Hudson as well as the city’s waterfront with the 714-acre Greenport Conservation Area which, in turn, connects on the north to Harrier Hill Park. Hikers could actually walk for miles near the banks of the Hudson River in protected, public lands, something that simply can’t be done many places in the Mid-Hudson Valley.
Does anybody want to walk on a landfill? Even if they do, they shouldn’t. Only about two feet of topsoil covers the trash; wear and tear, even from well-meaning eco-geeks, could spell disaster. The land conservancy’s plan takes that problem into consideration, suggesting boardwalks and looking at the surrounding land for trail routes that skirt much of the most sensitive trash-filled land. As a result, the plan envisions that the hills of garbage will become an ever more inviting habitat for wildlife, adding another reason to visit the site. It also explains why the plan looks at such a wide swath of land adjacent to the old landfill, almost all of which is already owned by the city or the county.
Lots of good ideas go nowhere, and that could happen to this one too. But the logic of this plan argues that it’s worth pursuing. Sure, it’s possible that extraterrestrial visitors will drop by, and because our rotting garbage is exactly what they need to fuel their spacecraft, they’ll suck it all up and disappear. Until that happens, though, those hills of trash serve no useful purpose other than to prevent the fullest use and enjoyment of one of this nation’s greatest scenic wonders.
The plan faces huge obstacles. To start with, no one has offered to pay for it. But the biggest cost, land acquisition, isn’t a factor. And the plan envisions development of the trails and educational features in phases, which suggests that private funding could play a big part. That’s good, because asking taxpayers to foot the bill would doom the project.
The greatest danger comes from political inertia, a we’ll-get-around-to-that-later attitude that delayed Hudson’s waterfront revitalization plan for over two decades. If the North Bay plan gets shunted into a swamp of political committees and mind-numbing hearings, you’ll know that somebody has something to gain by having it fail.
I can imagine families enjoying the view along the North Bay trails 15 years from now, after the state declares the trash in the hills above them too harmless to monitor. Maybe some will stop for a picnic and wonder about that decision. Maybe they’ll remember to properly dispose of the trash from their meal. Maybe they won’t waste as much as we did.