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SHARES | It was a toxic wasteland. Now it’s a national park

(After a $50 million cleanup, flowers and wildlife replace chemicals and rusting cars in one corner of Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park


A junkyard that once held rusting cars and thousands of barrels of oozing toxic chemicals just got added to a national park. The former Krejci dump, a 45-acre parcel that operated from 1948 to 1980, opened to the public in December as part of a 200-acre addition to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a 33,000-acre swath that winds between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio.

Over the past 16 years, this corner of land near the Cuyahoga River was transformed from a Superfund site into a wetland teeming with birds and plants. It’s the most extensive and expensive of the hundreds of ongoing reclamation and rehabilitation projects overseen by the National Park Service (NPS).

Their work turns toxic zones—left behind after coal mining, oil drilling, or hazardous waste dumping—into safe, enjoyable outdoor oases. “Virtually every national park within the system has a contaminated site,” says Veronica Dickerson, a manager at the National Park Service’s Environmental Compliance and Cleanup Division. “People think of bugs, bunnies, and beautiful scenery associated with national parks, but I manage 13 of the messiest projects in the park service.”


Millions of people visit the varied and stunning landscapes of the NPS each year. Few realize that many parks didn’t start out as pristine wilderness. The Grand Canyon once held a uranium mine on its south rim; copper and arsenic extraction sites used to pollute what’s now Joshua Tree National Park. National parks are growing, evolving landscapes that, over time, have been given or acquired new parcels that required remediation.

Today, Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s new acres offer travelers a chance to dip into a revived natural space. Here’s how it went from a wreck to an environmental triumph.


Wetlands and seasonal wildflowers now dominate the former Krejci dump site.

PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS DAVIS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

(National Geographic)


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