Mount Trashmore: The Engineering Marvel That Transformed A Landfill Into A Park

The iconic sculpture featuring U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota is considered an engineering marvel. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, his son Lincoln, and hundreds of workers spent 14 years on the project.

There is another lesser-known but still impressive engineering marvel in Virginia that bears a similar name to Mount Rushmore. And while it may not be as awe-inspiring as the original, Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach is still mighty impressive. Begun in 1965, the park's centerpiece is a 60-foot tall, 800-foot-long grass-covered hill, which is the tallest point in the city, according to Virginia Places. But this is no natural wonder. It took an army of workers and heavy equipment to create the first park of its kind in the U.S. out of layers of garbage, 640,000 tons worth, mixed with clean dirt.  

A bold plan

In 1965, Virginia Beach faced a garbage problem. "We had completely filled our last dump," Charles Kiley, the Virginia Beach sanitation engineer, told the Copley News Service in a 1971 interview. "We couldn't find a gulley or valley in this flat country to fill in. Ecology considerations prevented us from burning our refuse." The city turned to Roland E. Dorer, then director of the Commonwealth's Department of Health, Insect and Vector Control, who made a bold proposal to create a park using the city's garbage. They planned to develop the massive garbage hill in the same way nature builds one — a layer at a time.

The city began constructing the hill with a four-foot-deep layer of garbage that they packed down using massive compactor vehicles, then added a one-foot-layer of dirt, crushed down onto the garbage, per the Copley News Service. The city repeated the process over and over until, by 1971, they were ready to convert the dump into a park, per Virginia Places. They also built in seven seepage points to prevent any potentially dangerous buildup of methane gas from the garbage, according to "Sanitary Landfill Leachate: Generation, Control and Treatment."

Naming rights 

While the residents of Virginia Beach were all for the new park, in 1969, before the park's completion, a battle was brewing over its name. The city's residents called it Mount Trashmore during its construction, and the name had stuck. Like the infamous "Boaty McBoatface" incident of 2016, in which the British government made the mistake of letting the internet name a new research ship but then backpedaled, the City of Virginia Beach government wanted a name with a little more dignity. Members of the city's parks and recreation commission wanted to name it after Roland Dorer, who dreamed up the idea for the park.

Dorer didn't want the park named after him but didn't want it named Mount Trashmore, either. "It was all right to call it that when the trash was going in there," he said at the time, per The Virginian-Pilot. "It described the operation at the time, but I think it now needs a more romantic name than Mount Trashmore." Nevertheless, the name Mount Trashmore still stuck. Today the park encompasses 165 acres and boasts, among other amenities, two lakes (one named Lake Trashmore), two playgrounds, two volleyball courts, a boardwalk, and a skate park.