Tracey Morgan Gallery, in Ashville North Carolina, presented Jade Doskow: Freshkills, a new exhibition of photographs taken at Staten Island’s Freshkills Park. The gallery ran from September 21, 2021 through October 31, 2021. Doskow’s large-scale photographs of the iconic New York landfill-turned-park make clear its’ paradoxical, ethereal beauty, while creating an important archive of a major chapter within the story of New York City’s infrastructure. The works on display reflect the scope of the natural and unnatural systems at play in this unique, layered landscape.
Sedge Wrens returning to breed at Freshkills Park for the second year in a row highlights the importance of this site to sensitive and regionally-rare grassland birds, as well as the potential of reclaiming landfills for green space. Sedge Wrens are considered iterative breeders, meaning they may nest earlier in the breeding season in a more northern portion of their range and then travel south to raise a second brood later in the summer. This explains why they arrived at Freshkills Park in early August last year, and in July of 2021, as opposed to May when many of our other grassland birds begin breeding.
Ecosystems and habitats, including grasslands, are a standard part of science curricula. However, most curricula teach about grasslands in the Great Plains or the African Savannah. Many of us don’t realize that there are grasslands right here in New York City. Freshkills Park, in Staten Island, NY, contains over 1,000 acres of grassland habitat, the largest grassland ecosystem in New York State. These grasslands are home to unique animals and plants, including Grasshopper Sparrows, Little Bluestem, and Red Foxes. Freshkills Park educators created the first curriculum geared towards K-12 students about grasslands in New York City.
In July 2020, the Freshkills Park Alliance research staff found vacant Cliff Swallow nests under the bridge connecting the east and south parks. Although this species was first recorded collecting nesting material in the Park in May 2018 it was not until July 2020 that (vacant) nests were found, and June 4, 2021 when active nests were confirmed for the first time. The Cliff Swallows nesting at Freshkills Park are the first confirmed on Staten Island since 1880.
This summer, an especially exciting species of bird decided to make its home at Freshkills Park. Sedge Wrens (Cistothorus platensis) nested for the first time in the Park’s history. Sedge Wrens are listed as Threatened in New York State, where they nest in small numbers, primarily in the St. Lawrence Valley and throughout the Lake Ontario Plain. Sedge Wrens are a rare visitor to New York City, where they last nested in 1960 in the vicinity of John F. Kennedy International Airport.
For the last two years artist partner Jade Doskow has been capturing Freshkills Park and her large format, full-color images of the site were featured in the New York Times Metro Section in August 2020. Her project illuminates the unusual beauty of Freshkills as it transforms both seasonally and via human-made intervention. Within each picture, Jade combines the beauty and luminosity of the Hudson River School of landscape paintings with the jarring, surreal structural elements inherent to the site — methane wells, leachate plants, roads built for landfill operations that are still in use today — Doskow’s images offer a vision of a new and highly engineered concept of wilderness.
In 2020, Freshkills Park took Discovery Day virtual and hosted Discovery Week from June 22nd through June 26th. To make the park more accessible, the Freshkills Park team and community partners, created virtual tours, downloads and experiences. Throughout the week, virtual attendees were able to learn about the history, wildlife, recreation, education, and art at the park
In 2019, Freshkills Park, in partnership with James Powers, hosted Fastnet: Plein-Air Drawing at Freshkills Park. This exhibition featured plein-air drawings and ink studies of Freshkills Park that were produced through a series of workshops held within a 20-foot shipping container called Fastnet. The exhibition was on display at the Arsenal Galley in Central Park from September – November 2019.
Wildlife monitoring, by air, by land, and by creek, is a continuing effort at Freshkills Park. In the summer of 2019, Freshkills Park researchers set up wildlife cameras to record animal activity on site and footage shows a snapshot of some of the larger mammals that inhabit the park, which included red foxes. In addition, researchers have been monitoring the diversity of fish species in the park’s Main Creek since 2016 as a means of tracking the health and quality of the aquatic ecosystems at the park. Additionally, researchers from the College of Staten Island completed their fourth year of Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) bird banding at Freshkills Park.
Freshkills Park staff and local Staten Island residents came together at the Greenbelt Nature Center to participate in the first ever “Grasslands Dinner.” The evening centered on the history of grasslands in the United States, the biodiversity of plants and animals associated with these habitats, and how Freshkills Park is helping to bring grassland back to New York City. The discussion was held over a delicious vegetarian meal from Dig Inn, a restaurant that sources ingredients from their own Dig Farm in Chester, NY, as well as from other small-scale local farms.