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 lay down their backpacks and spread out blankets, no one in the group had any idea they were right 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 May 1, 2009. 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 re-defining 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. Now the cost from years of natural resource exploitation is beginning to show.
Tangshan's coal and iron ore reserves would be used out in 50 years. That and the consequences from serious ecological deterioration, has prompted city authorities to seek new ways to support its economy.
The garbage dump, for instance, used to be 1,800 hectares of mines which caved in as a result of years production. People then began to throw trash there. As it is only two kilometers away from downtown Tangshan, the dump became the city's eyesore.
To remedy the situation, Tangshan decided to build a proper landfill beginning in 1996. Sources with the Ecology Management Commission (EMC) of the South Lake Eco District said coal dust was moved and used to build hills for the park. Two pipes were installed to remove percolating liquid and to transmit methane produced by the sealed garbage.
The landfill was then covered with trees and grass. An artificial lake was also built.
The whole park, with core scenic areas measuring 28 square kilometers, cost about 2.52 billion yuan (370 million U.S. dollars) in total.
Li Guangrui, a 76-year-old local, said the change was welcome.
"Years ago, nobody would even come near here. It was smelly and disgusting with all the trash. Now, I come here to do a little exercise almost every day. It's great to see the garbage gone."
According to the EMC, the park is now home to 49 kinds of wild birds including white-headed duck and red-rumped swallow.
But potential benefits from the park go beyond ecology.
Lin Peng, director of the Urban and Rural Planning Bureau of Tangshan, expected South Lake Park to rekindle investment around the previous wasteland and spawn new business opportunities.
The government wants to turn the area into a so-called eco-town spreading 91 square kilometers by 2015. It could hold a population of 400,000.
Instead of coal mining, technology and capital-intensive businesses will be developed into Tangshan's pillar industries.
"Without alternative industries, old industrial bases can hardly sustain economic growth in the future," said Mayor Chen Guoying.
Tangshan isn't the only city facing the challenge. A study released by the National Development and Reform Commission in 2002 showed that about 118 Chinese cities had resources-based economies. Among them, 63 rely on coal, 21 on forestry, 12 on non-ferrous metals and eight on metallurgy.
On March 5, 2009, the State Council, or Cabinet, classified 44of those cities as "resource-exhausted".
Shen Lei, researcher with the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said it means three-quarters of the total proven reserve in those cities have already been used.
It also means they face problems such as environmental degeneration and high unemployment rates.
Tangshan does not fall into the "resource-exhausted" category, but it is resource-based which is why it is relying on the South Lake Park Eco-Town to cultivate sustainable development.
The hope is in five to ten years, Tangshan will have new growth engines to contribute at least half of its gross domestic product, said Mayor Chen.
The park is one step on a long road towards that goal.