Escape the high-rises to visit one of NYC’s most beautiful parks
The Staten Island Greenbelt is one of the largest parks in NYC. In fact, at 1,778 acres, it is more than twice the size of Central Park (fun fact: Central Park is only the fifth-largest park in NYC!) The Staten Island Greenbelt includes New York City’s largest remaining forest preserve—Clay Pit Ponds State Park and also boasts some other beautiful parks, wetlands, open meadows, hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, a golf course, and one of the most diverse eco-systems in New York City. All of this is why many New Yorkers regard the Staten Island Greenbelt as one of the best parks in NYC.
But the Greenbelt is also one of the city’s best-kept secrets… let’s explore why.
Great for the kids
The Staten Island Greenbelt is great for kids as it has some of the best hiking around NYC. In fact, there are six Greenbelt park trails and kids will delight in climbing on rocks and running around the twisting trails! Not only is it great exercise but the park’s trails also put them in touch with nature—win-win.
Another area to take the family is the Greenbelt Nature Center. It’s a small visitor attraction center featuring displays and exhibitions about the Greenbelt’s natural environment. They also feature a one-mile hiking trail specifically designed for kids and if you check the Greenbelt Nature Center’s website(opens in a new tab), you might even be able to sync your trip up with one of the many special events they hold. These range from arts and crafts, to storytime, to learning wilderness skills such as how to use a compass.
For all the sports lovers out there, the Staten Island Greenbelt is home to various tennis courts and golf courses, all of which are kid-friendly. There are also two playgrounds and the famous Willowbrook Park carousel to enjoy! Families can also take a fun canoe ride on the man-made Willowbrook Lake. The pond is also full of sunfish for catch-and-release fishing (remember to bring your fishing rod!)
Perhaps the most unique feature of the Staten Island Greenbelt is Historic Richmond Town(opens in a new tab). This is a 100-acre village and museum of living American history. Kids can explore an old schoolhouse, an old print shop (an 1860 duplicate), an old jail, and even a cemetery almost as old as the United States itself! To add to the authenticity, the staff always wear period-appropriate attire.
Great for nature lovers
The Staten Island Greenbelt is a nature lover’s dream. You’ll find an abundance of squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and white-tailed deer. Fun fact: thanks to conservation efforts, the deer population has increased by 3000% since 2008!
Combining both the wide-open spaces and the wetland environment, the Staten Island Greenbelt is a birding paradise. Birding experts recommend visiting in spring when the “early” migrants appear in the parks. You will find kinglets, eastern Phoebes, warblers, and waterfowl. As the year progresses, you may be lucky enough to find wood thrush, Acadian flycatcher, scarlet tanager, redtail hawks, and Cooper hawks! These are species seldom found in other urban parks, making the Staten Island Greenbelt unique in New York City.
If you prefer aquatic life, you are in for a treat. Willowbrook Lake provides a large variety of fish including bluegill, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed, yellow perch, black crappie, brown bullhead, green sunfish, and golden shiners. You might also find turtles and the northern water snake!
In the 1960s, Robert Moses, the notorious New York City planner and Parks Commissioner wanted to build a highway through the Staten Island Greenbelt. In 1963, rock and soil were excavated for the highway and hauled away to what was then a remote area. The plan was to use the material for a section of the Richmond highway, which would cut through and destroy the Greenbelt. Due to intense local opposition, this section was never completed. Instead, the rock and soil stayed where it was and eventually became a “mountain” and was named after the man that brought about its creations – Robert Moses. The word “mountain” is used quite freely here as the pile of rocks and soil is only 260 feet high. Grasses and tough wildflowers began to grow on the debris and, as they died in the winter, their remains decomposed and began to make natural soil. Nature took its course, and today a huge variety of vegetation and wildlife call it home. Moses’ Mountain is now a popular place for hikers, birders, and sightseers. It is part of the ecosystem that makes The Staten Island Greenbelt one of the best parks in NYC.
To learn even more about this area’s fascinating history or to have a local guide show you the highlights, book a tour with one of our friendly guides today!(opens in a new tab)