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Here's a sneak peek at the Hills on Governors Island

Written by
Tolly Wright

A week before the grand opening on July 19th, we got a sneak peek at the Hills on Governors Island. This highly anticipated bucolic NYC park is finished a full 10 months ahead of schedule (you hear that, Second Avenue Subway?) and is every bit as idyllic as the ambitious plans made it sound. Whether you’re looking for staggering views, contemplative art, a grassy spot to catch your breath or even a fast thrill ride, these four man-made hills are a must-see.

Designed by Dutch and New York City urban design and landscape architecture firm West 8, the 10 acres of slopes not only help protect the Island from natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and rising sea levels but also offer a space unlike any other in the city. The park "incorporates a philosophy of play,” Leslie Koch, President of the Trust for Governors Island and our tour guide for the morning, explained as she discussed the public space's vision of free and safe creativity and exploration for people of all ages, which can been seen in the 20-foot Grassy Hill with turf grass just waiting to be rolled over and the 40-foot Slide Hill.

If you're a fan of acting like a kid in NYC, then you’re in for a treat. On Slide Hill, you can scamper up the jigsaw-like mulch-covered steps and go down these stainless steel chutes. The scariest—excuse us, tallest—of which is 72 feet and takes the title of longest slide in the city. A word of warning if you go down this one, though: Based on our intrepid reporter's firsthand experience, should you chose to go for maximum speed and make your body like a long torpedo going down, don’t be surprised if you temporarily take flight at the end and land butt first.

Of course, if you want something of a higher-brow persuasion, look no further than Discovery Hill. In a clearing on the 40-foot hills side stands the Cabin, a site-specific installation by British artist Rachel Whiteread. A solid concrete structure made to look like an abandoned shed, right now it resembles a mesmerizing little house on the prairie, but it will develop into a homage that's less Laura Ingalls Wilder and more Henry David Thoreau when the trees around it grow.

The top dog (or top mount, as it were) is Outlook Hill. Rising 70 feet above the island, this hill was specifically designed to give visitors sights so Instagram-worthy they make you question why you ever spent money to get to skyscrapers’ observation decks. The panoramic view brings Lower Manhattan—which is about half a mile across the harbor—and the whole island into perspective, but one iconic monument particularly sticks out. “We want to return the Statue of Liberty to the people of New York,” Koch said. “The monument appears and disappears behind hills by design.” Throughout the 10 acres, Lady Liberty sneaks out at different angles, but it's atop Outlook Hill where you come face-to-face with the symbol of a new start and freedom for immigrants arriving by ship in the late 19th and early 20th century. Koch was quick to point out that few of those on her tour had visited the statue at her home on Liberty Island since grade school (if ever), and she believes this is true for many New Yorkers—but 75 percent of the 450,000 visitors to Governors Island in 2015 were from the five boroughs.

“Adriaan [Geuze, West 8’s landscape architect] designs his parks to last 100 years,” Koch said as she was discussing the park's sustainable features, and it’s true—the park very well might survive a natural disaster and become as treasured and as largely unaltered as Central Park.

Timothy Schenck

Check out this beauty for yourself on July 19 during the grand opening event. Come early and rent a bike free of charge—a perk the island offers all weekday mornings—and ride around the Hills for an inspiring sense of the scale and accomplishment of the views. Or, if you’re really craving that perfect picture, come on Wednesday 20 when the island will be open from 5am to 9pm for one day only to give visitors the opportunity to see those panoramic views at sunrise and sunset.

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