TRAVIS — The city opened up a former landfill to the public for one day only Sunday to offer free bike riding, kayaking, hiking and the chance to see the payoff of their restoration efforts through bird-watching tours.
Since the city started to add grasslands to sections of Freshkills in the 1990s, and after it closed in 2001, many wetland and water-based birds like ospreys, egrets and herrings returned to the area, said Cait Field, manager for science and research at Freshkills Park.
But over the past few years, rarer grassland birds have started to make their way to the park, including the threatened Grasshopper sparrow, with Freshkills now boasting the largest colony in the state.
"It really shows that this is a viable and successful habitat of these species," Field explained. "It takes them a few years to find it, but now that they found the spot they keep coming back. It's a good habitat; they're not out there looking for a new one."
Aside from Grasshopper sparrows, researchers at the park have also spotted American woodchucks, blue grosbeaks and a pair of the rare upland sandpipers, Field said.
When the city started work to restore the land after the landfill closed, the goal wasn't necessarily to lure back these birds, she said. But they've returned anyway, because it's a relatively untouched grassland and they aren't many efforts to preserve the birds' habitats elsewhere, Field added.
"It's sort of an interesting byproduct and it's sort of a happy accident," she said. "By learning about those happy accidents, we're able to inform other restoration efforts elsewhere."
The city has worked with College of Staten Island biology professor Dr. Richard Veit to study the birds at Freshkills and the reasons they choose specific sections over others to help preserve their new habitats, Field said.
During its annual "Discovery Day" on Sunday, the Parks Department offered bird-watching tours through the NYC Audubon Society to let visitors get a peek at the result of the restoration.
A section of the under-construction, 2,039-acre park was also open for tours, kayaking, cycling, food trucks and more.
The park is opening in sections, with the entire green space expected to open by 2025.