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City dump now a popular attraction

SHEN Zhen and his six college classmates decided to get away from campus and take a break from their studies with a picnic at South Lake Park.

As they spread out blankets, no one in the group had any idea they were on top of a former garbage dump which used to hold as much as 4.5 million cubic meters of domestic waste and coal dust.

"The park is so beautiful that we can hardly imagine it used to be a dump site," Shen said. "We plan to spend a whole day here. Go for a walk and then have a picnic on the grass under big trees."

South Lake Park's history didn't bother Shen nor the more than 300,000 other people who visited it when it first opened to the public on May 1. The crowds were seen as a sign of success for Tangshan, an old industrial city in northern China's Hebei Province, which is in the process of redefining itself.

"Transforming the refuse dump into a scenic park marks a change the city is trying to make to shake off its problem of relying too much on resources for development," said Zhao Yong, secretary of the Tangshan Committee of the Communist Party of China.

An industrial base dating back to 1840, Tangshan has left indelible marks on the development of China's modern industry. It is where China's first mechanized coal mine and first standard-gauge railroad were built. It produced the country's first steam locomotive and first piece of toilet porcelain ware.

Power generation, steel, machinery and motor vehicle production along with coal mining have long been its pillar industries. The cost of years of natural resource exploitation was beginning to show and the city authorities were prompted to act.

The dump used to be 1,800 hectares of mines which caved in. People began to throw trash there and, just 2 kilometers from downtown Tangshan, it became a city eyesore.

But in 1996 work began to transform the site. Coal dust was moved and used to build hills, pipes were installed to remove liquid and to transmit methane produced by the sealed garbage.

The landfill was then covered with trees and grass and an artificial lake was also built. The park cost about 2.52 billion yuan (US$370 million) and is now home to 49 species of wild birds - and a popular picnic spot.


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