Mount Trashmore is the highest point in Virginia Beach, at over 60 feet tall
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Princess Anne VA 1:24,000 topographic quadrangle (2016)
One of the highest points in Virginia Beach is the artificially-made former landfill known as Mount Trashmore. It is over 60 feet tall and 800 feet long, while Encore Hill next door is roughly half that height.1
The water table is too high in Virginia Beach to construct a pit and place trash deep in the ground. As the city dumped its municipal solid waste in one location, a higher and higher mound formed. Residents jokingly called it "Mount Trashmore," comparing it to the famous Mount Rushmore.
City officials considered choosing a different name, perhaps one associated with Roland E. Dorer. He was the director of the State Department of Health, Insect and Vector Control, and a leader on the city parks commission who advocated for converting the dump into a park. Because sea gulls had swarmed the site while fresh trash was being deposited, one proposed name was Gull Dorer City Park. Local residents made clear that Mount Trashmore was preferred, and the name was adopted officially.2
After compacting 640,000 tons of trash at the site and covering it with layers of "clean dirt," the city closed the landfill in 1971.
Two "borrow pits" where dirt had been excavated for covering the trash and for construction of the Virginia Beach Toll Road were converted into Lake Windsor and Lake Trashmore, which total 70 acres. Lake Windsor is brackish, because Thalia Creek connects it with the Western Branch of the Lynnhaven River. Lake Trashmore is freshwater, not connected by a surface stream to any local waterway.3
The organic material in municipal solid waste decomposes gradually, and the process generates methane gas. Seven vents were built in the clay cover at the top of the now-closed landfill to prevent that gas from forcing open cracks, which could allow rainwater to seep into the waste and create leachate ("garbage juice") that would flow into a nearby creek.
As an April Fool's Day joke in 1992, a local radio station broadcast that methane had built up inside Mount Trashmore and it was about to explode like a volcano. Two disc jockeys warned everyone within a seven-mile radius to evacuate. Listeners made enough phone calls to local police to jam the phone lines, until a police car arrived at WNOR and warned that the prank could delay response to a serious emergency. The radio station managers suspended those responsible for one-two weeks, and the Federal Communications Commission updated its regulations to authorize fines for transmitting fake news.4
Visitors who end up standing near one of the vents can testify that the methane is still escaping, as designed. Three of them are disguised as flagpoles.
In 1971 when the landfill dumping stopped, the price of natural gas was still regulated by the Federal government. The prince was so low then that it was not cost effective to build a methane capture system for use in an electrical generator. The methane production is gradually diminishing as bacteria decompose all the organics in the buried solid waste. The methane releases remain uncontrolled; no productive use of the landfill gas is feasible now, and the greenhouse gas will continue to seep out of Mount Trashmore.
Encore Hill and Encore Hill were converted into a public park in 1973. Today, Mount Trashmore Park is the most heavily-used city park in Virginia Beach, popular with skateboarders, picnickers, and kite fliers.5
in 2018, Virginia Beach considered three options for making Mount Trashmore's middle stairway more visually interesting
Source: City of Virginia Beach, Stairway Mural Art for Mount Trashmore
Until 2000 the city allowed skiers, snowboarders, and sledders to slide down Mount Trashmore. After an 11-inch snowstorm in 1996, 5,000 people crowded onto the "mountain." There were excessive injuries as people slid into each other, into obstructions, and underneath cars:6
In 2002, a rubber sheet was added at the top of the rubbish pile to ensure water would not seep through the soil cap and create leachate. Soil on top of the rubber sheet supports a layer of grass, and allows for recreational activities on the highest peak in Virginia Beach.7
After closure of Mount Trashmore, Virginia Beach opened a second landfill. The Landfill and Resource Recovery Center is also known as Mount Trashmore II. It is now the highest point in Virginia Beach, at 145 feet in elevation. The highest natural elevation is a sand dune at Fort Story, at 88 feet in elevation.8
Virginia Beach still uses Mount Trashmore II, but after the city joined the Southeastern Public Service Authority it shipped most waste to a Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plant, a waste-to-energy power plant generating electricity, and a regional landfill in Suffolk.
Mount Rushmore II remained as an alternative disposal site during renegotiations of the regional compact to renew the Southeastern Public Service Authority in 2018, but re-opening Mount Trashmore was not an option.9
the Landfill and Resource Recovery Center (Mount Trashmore II) is the highest point in Virginia Beach
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
Mount Trashmore is a distinct topographic feature south of I-264 in Virginia Beach
Source: ESRI, ArcGis Online