Trashing an ecopark

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Trashing an ecopark

Seoul is not a city known for its green parks, so the World Cup Park near the Sangam-dong World Cup Stadium, which opened to the public last month, is a welcome addition to this densely populated metropolis where few plots of land are allowed to lie idle.

To people not familiar with Seoul, the park may seem like any other except, perhaps, for its vast size of 346.5 hectares. But after one look at the two flat-topped, trapezoid-shaped hills that are part of the five smaller parks that make up the World Cup Park, inquisitive visitors would wonder why they stand in the middle of the otherwise flat landscape.

The two mountains are, in fact, landfills. Nanjido, the site of the two "mountain" parks, became a landfill in 1978 when the city, forced to look for a new landfill site, turned to the island on the lower estuary of the Han River. Over the next 15 years, more than 110 million tons of garbage were dumped at the site before it was shut down in 1993, creating the two large garbage mountains.

Although people today remember Nanjido as a waste dump site notorious for a stench that traveled for miles, it was not always so. Originally a small island on the northwestern stretch of the Han River that bisects the city, it was a favored dating spot in the 1970s and one of the few pieces of wilderness left in Seoul. Wild flowers grew in abundance and orchids thrived.

While work continues on the landfill to the west to turn it into a nine-hole public golf course by next summer, the one to the east has been transformed into an ecopark, a return to the area's roots as an island famous for its orchids and flowers. The 98-meter-high mountain of garbage is now named, quite appropriately, Haneul Park, or Sky Park.

After a good 10-15 minute walk up the zigzag stairs that lead to the park on the top of the mountain, one comes to a flat, dry area with a mix of plants not found in the rest of the park. For the less energetic, buses also run to the top of the hill from Peace Park, a part of the complex immediately adjacent to the World Cup stadium.

Sunflowers, white buckwheat flowers and reeds have been planted on the edges of this man-made ecopark.

In the center of the field are many species of plants grown from a variety of seeds that were randomly scattered as part of the landscape work that began a year ago. The idea was to introduce many diverse plant species and let those most fit to live in the environment within the park survive.

Some of the plants found in the park predate the landscape work. Most were likely to have been introduced in the soil that was carried along with the garbage from different parts of the city. While the number of plant species living in the park has not been documented yet, research done prior to landscape work showed more than 30 percent to be species not native to the peninsula. "These foreign species tend to be hardier and thrive better in hostile environments," said Kim Ji-suk, a guide at the visitor's center who also conducts eco-education programs on site.

Despite the jarring, piped-in elevator music blaring through outdoor speakers, birds can be still be heard chirping at the Sky Park. Magpies, pheasants, woodpeckers and sparrows are often spotted, according to Mr. Kim. Once again, the birds that have been found breeding in the park are those that are suited to the environment ?those that feed on insects.

There are even butterflies fluttering about among the flowers. For this, nature had a little help. More than 33,000 butterflies have been released atop this mountain since last year to encourage them to breed in the park.

"People were probably a bit impatient when they did that," Mr. Kim said. "When the plants take root and thrive here, butterflies that can naturally live off the available plants here will come flying in."

The park is a testament that a landfill can be rehabilitated to support life. The decision to turn Nanjido into a park was made even before the landfill shut down. In 1996, efforts to rehabilitate the landfill began in earnest.

This involved, among other things, erecting walls around the landfill from deep under the ground to prevent chemicals and other by products from oozing out of the garbage heap, seeping into the ground and spilling into the surrounding area. The leachate is collected by pipes placed at various points around the landfill and pumped into two successive treatment facilities before being released into the nearby Nanji Stream.

The noxious fumes that are associated with landfills are dealt with by draping a thin, high-density film over the entire surface of the landfill. This also prevents the rainwater from seeping into the garbage heap and potentially contaminating the soil in the surrounding area.

Landfill gas is collected via lidded wells that are dug into the landfill. The gas is than transported through pipes to the nearby Korea District Heating Corporation, where the methane contained in the landfill gas is converted to fuel, which in turn provides energy for heating and cooling systems for the World Cup Stadium and surrounding residential and office buildings.

To complete the eco-friendly orientation of the park, five 30-meter-tall windmills, each generating about 20 kilowatts of electricity, have been erected on the south side of the park. The winds at the mountain top, which blow at an average of more than 3.9 meters per second, turn the windmills to generate electricity for the street lamps in the park and to meet the power requirement of the visitors center.

Although the park today looks somewhat artificial, nature will take over in due course. With the passage of time, plants and animals that are not suited to the dry and severe environment of the garbage mountain will gradually disappear.

"Only a few years from now, as the ecosystem stabilizes, this park is going to look considerably different," Mr. Kim said.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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