The Hills hardhat tour with the Trust For Governors Island.

Photo Tour of The Hills Reveals Dynamic Change on Island

The Hills hardhat tour with the Trust For Governors Island.
The Hills hardhat tour with the Trust For Governors Island.

Getting a sneak peek at The Hills was a real treat. The Trust for Governors Island is hosting monthly hardhat tours. I attended the most recent one with more than a dozen other fans of the island, and what we saw was impressive.

After getting our official reflective vests and hardhats at Liggett Hall, we were on our way. Our guide was Stephanie Shaw, a project manager with The Trust. She gave us a lot of information as we were on our tour. The highlights:

The four hills are all underway and look to be finished by the 2016 season: Grassy, Slide, Outlook, and Discovery. They will range in size from 20 to 70 feet above the Great Promenade.

Even if The Hills are “done” by the opening of the 2016 season, it depends on the planting if they can be climbed on. There is much work to do on that front.

Currently Outlook Hill, the tallest of the four, is still being sculpted by earth-moving machines. There are layers of fill to be built up.

The Hills hardhat tour with the Trust For Governors Island.
The Hills hardhat tour with the Trust For Governors Island.
While a lot of the fill being used for The Hills is coming from demolished buildings on the island, many barges are being used to bring in more fill from off-island. No trucks are being hired. To be ecologically friendly, barges are the sole source. Barges dock at Lima Pier (which is why cycling the perimeter of the island isn’t permitted in 2015).

Discovery Hill will have a Rachel Whiteread cast concrete sculpture installed in November. No plans yet on an unveiling. Whiteread is one of the most famous sculpture artists in the world, her work is held in the Museum of Modern Art, and this is going to be great for the island.

I didn’t get to go on Slide Hill (no slides yet) or Discovery Hill. They still have work to do.

Overall it was a very impressive tour. The people I was on the tour with were all really happy to be seeing the location for the first time; all of us were repeat visitors to the island. A nice touch was The Trust handed out selfie sticks. I think that Outlook Hill is going to be the #1 destination for pictures on the Island (so sorry, Castle Williams). The view of the harbor and Lady Liberty are super. Just in the short time I was on Outlook Hill, about 20 boats passed by.

By the time The Hills open all of the development in that area will be complete for this phase of the Master Plan (designed by West 8, the Rotterdam firm who dreamed it up). This will also include Liberty Moment, which is a part of the pathway at the base of Outlook and Discovery hills. It will be an area that opens up to see the Statue of Liberty.

I recently kind of got into a discussion with a Red Hook supporter about the view of the Statue of Liberty. I say Governors Island is the only place to view the face of the sculpture, because Manhattan gets the side and back of her head. She said the face could be seen from Red Hook. So now I amend my statement: Governors Island has the best, and closest view of the face of the statue not from a boat, helicopters, or while swimming.

The Trust for Governors Island is offering more hardhat tours of The Hills this summer. They are on July 30, August 27, and September 24. Meet at the Liggett Hall sallyport (the big archway) at 4:15 pm. It’s free and lasts about 90 minutes (you catch the 6:00 ferry back to Manhattan, the last boat). I recommend good walking shoes or hiking boots.

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Kevin C. Fitzpatrick has written and edited seven books with ties to New York history, including "The Governors Island Explorer's Guide" and "World War I New York: A Guide to the City’s Enduring Ties to the Great War." Kevin is a licensed sightseeing guide and has been leading walking tours since 1999. He resides in Manhattan.