Let's just call it a dumpfounding decision. Late last summer, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton proudly announced that she was adding the Fresno, Calif., Municipal Sanitary Landfill to the roster of National Historic Landmarks. She had her reasons. The facility, which operated from 1937 to 1987, was the first landfill in the country to practice trash compaction and to employ the trench method of disposal, in which refuse gets compressed and covered over daily with fresh layers of dirt.
Just one problem with Norton's nomination. The landfill, having leaked toxins into local groundwater, was on the Environmental Protection Agency's register of Superfund cleanup sites. Whoops.
When Norton found out, she dumped her idea, but the landfill didn't go to waste. Even as the embarrassing event unfolded, a $23 million cleanup of the site continued. It's now been cleared of contamination and is ready to receive a different honor this summer when it becomes Fresno Regional Sports Park.
The 350-acre area near Jensen and West avenues now has six softball diamonds (four are lighted), nine soccer fields, three toddler play stations, and a man-made lake. In case you get hungry, there are also picnic shelters and concession stands. But please don't leave your hot dog wrapper lying on the ground.
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in May 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.