Willow Brook on Todt Hill, Staten Island

Close to the summit of Todt Hill, the city’s highest natural point, Todt Hill Road runs through a protected strip of forest that was intended for a highway that was never built. Veering off the main road onto the two-block Sussex Avenue, the forest is on the left and single-family homes on the right.

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On the shoulder of the road appears a concrete block and an indentation in the ground with a swamp deeper in the woods. This is where Willow Brook has its headwaters. I didn’t see any frogs here, considering that the location is at Sussex Avenue and Croak Avenue.

According to Leng

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Referring back to Charles W. Leng’s wonderful map of Staten Island’s streams, we see Willow Brook appearing at the intersection of Ocean Terrace and Manor Road. A couple of blocks south of this intersection, one can see cattails on the road’s shoulder and a bit of moisture. This indicates wetland conditions, where Willow Brook once flowed freely before roads and houses constrained its course.

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Looking at old maps of Staten Island from the Museum of the City of New York, it is not conclusive whether the brook at the corner of Sussex and Croak avenues is Willow Brook. There were plenty of smaller brooks, kettle ponds, and swamps in this neighborhood, but they are within Willow Brook’s watershed.

Properties on Croak

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Sussex Avenue visualizes the before-and-after aspect of Staten Island’s landscape. On one side is an undisturbed forest and on the other are rows of ranch houses with neatly trimmed lawns. Most of these homes were built in the 1970s and 1980s, relatively new for a New York City home.

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The slopes of Todt Hill are regarded as the most upscale in value on Staten Island, owing to the views, quiet, and sizable properties. Locating the former course of Willow Brook here is not difficult. Wherever the landscape dips, that’s where the creek flowed. Going west, there are a few empty lots where the creek reappears but it is a matter of time before these lots are developed. On the south shore of Staten Island, the city and state have purchased wetland properties for the Bluebelt plan, and it could be done in central Staten Island as well.

Topography Map Hints at Willow Brook

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At the visitor center ofr the Staten Island Greenbelt there is a topographical map of the park that hints at the former course of Willow Brook. Looking at the land to the north of Susan Wagner High School, we see V-shaped indentations in the contours that follow Willowbrook Road to Willowbrook Park, where the creek emerges as a lake.

In the News:

New York Times reports that federal playground guidelines find seesaws to be dangerous, with cities falling into compliance by phasing them out. Here, I hope to see the incoming Republican administration give a swift kick to the bureaucrats who wrote this recommendation.

DNAinfo reports on the design for a future park on West 20th Street in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

Nature of Cities has a book review of Ann L. Riley’s Restoring Neighborhood Streams: Planning, Design, and Construction. My Parks colleague Marit Larson wrote the review.

27 East reports on the restoration of Pussy’s Pond (that’s the name) in the Hamptons on Long Island.

Fear the incoming administration? With 2016 coming to a close, Congress passed the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act on the California-Nevada border, and the Columbia River Restoration Act on the Washington-Oregon border.

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