As 18-wheeler trucks usher in tons of refuse to a waste transfer station abuzz with flies and foul odors, the brown hilltop of the Hiriya garbage dump – perhaps Israel’s most iconic roadside monstrosity – now gleams with rows of sapling trees and wooden pergolas.

Set to be open, in part, to the public after a launch ceremony this Wednesday, this peak area is the first segment of the enormous Ariel Sharon Park, which at its conclusion, is slated to encompass 8,000 dunams and will be three times the size of Central Park in New York City.

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In addition to this section – which features an outlook point onto the already functioning bicycle paths in the valley below – future enhancements will include a “paradise garden” filled with fruit plants, animals and streams, as well as fields for play.

The entire transformation is overseen by the state-run Ariel Sharon Park Company – whose board is comprised of one-third national government officials, one-third municipality representatives and one-third green organizations.

“This is the first step of opening the park for the public,” said Moshe Borochov, director-general of Ariel Sharon Park. At the peak of the mountain, a sandy area is now covered with a smattering of small trees, and various wooden pergolas that will provide shade to the public.

The biggest of the pergolas is a sprawling wooden terrace that will serve as an outlook point onto the park below. The terrace is called the Caroline and Joseph Gruss Observation Terrace, in honor of the founders of the Beracha Foundation, the organization that initiated this project with the first $8 million donation. The Gruss’s donation was matched by the Israeli government, according to information from the Ariel Sharon Park company.

To date, roughly $28 million has been invested – a sum that will rise to an estimated $250 million by the project’s conclusion, the company said.

First opened in 1952 to serve as the primary waste facility for the Dan region, Hiriya (named for the former Arab village of al-Hiriya) “has for decades been synonymous in Israel with the worst environmental excesses,” according to the company.

After causing years of problems, including attracting masses of birds that pillaged through the garbage and distracted the landings and departures at nearby Ben-Gurion Airport, the dump closed in 1998.

“It always bothered me that this existed. It was an eyesore,” said Dr. Martin Weyl, director of the Beracha Foundation and the visionary behind the whole campaign to transform the dump into a park. “Nobody really gave it any attention.”

“People would stand and the waste would go to here,” he added, gesturing to his chest, while giving The Jerusalem Post a private preview tour of the park. “The purpose of this exhibition was to change the attitude toward garbage,” Weyl said.

After years of negotiations, the Beracha Foundation was able to get the government to go 50-50 with them on initial funding for the project, and in 2005 the government matched the foundation’s initial $8 million donation, Weyl said.

“We said if the government would match, we would put in seed money to start the park,” he said.

Esty Applebaum-Polani, chairwoman of the Ariel Sharon Park Company, credits Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan with the fact that the government eventually allowed the spade to hit the ground for this project.

“It’s just because of Gilad [that the project is developing] – he pushed it and he’s still pushing.”

Responsibility for the design of the park, after an international competition for the job, fell into the hands of German landscape architect Peter Latz.

“He’s really a master,” Weyl said of Latz. “To deal with contaminated sites is really a rare specialty.”

Latz has planned every detail personally – down to choosing each tree to be planted, according to Ariel Sharon Park Company spokeswoman Moran Tzarfati.

“We don’t have in Israel the experience of making such sophisticated metropolitan parks, so it’s all new for us,” Weyl added. “We thought we understood about planting trees, but even our landscape architects that work with him are saying he’s teaching them how to properly plant the trees.”

Latz has also pioneered a way to keep future flowers and fruits blooming, while protecting them from contaminants. The entire HIriya landscape is being covered with a “bioplastic” layer that blocks any methane from getting through, on top of which sits layers of gravel followed by a meter of pure earth, Weyl explained.

Above the bioplastic layer and beneath the earth, Latz designated areas for pools of rainwater to collect, which will replace the irrigation system that is currently feeding the trees, Weyl said.

The methane gas beneath the plastic is being used productively, serving to power different functions at the Hiriya site and at a nearby textile factory, Weyl explained.

Surrounding the mountain below are also three different recycling facilities run by private corporations – a waste separation center, a green waste facility that produces useable mulch and a site that recycles building materials, many of which are used in the Hiriya renovation.

“We tried to turn it from something very negative into a positive icon, and one of the ideas was that we shouldn’t just cover the mountain so that it will become a park and everybody will forget what it was,” Weyl said. “We were able to attract recycling factories with the idea that this will become an ‘educational theme park’ where the children will come and learn how to recycle.

So on one hand they will see it being done, and on the other hand they will see what happens when nothing is done.

Neither Weyl or Lantz intends to hide the ever-present garbage – 3,000 tons transferred daily – from the public, as he gestured at the bottom of the mountain toward an enormous, and odorous, pit of refuse.

“It’s part of the charm of the site,” he said of the smell.

After May 18, families will be able to take a shuttle bus up the mountain to enjoy afternoons under the newly planted trees and pergolas, and students on school trips will be able to come up for a breath of fresh air at the mountain’s peak after their visit to the interactive visitor’s center below.

While Weyl remains optimistic, he isn’t all that confident that the entire mountain’s worth of renovations will be completed in his lifetime. Asked when he thinks work will be completed, he said, chuckling, “I think when my grandson will be 90.”

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