Heritage Park, Staten Island

Staten Island’s unofficial nickname is Borough of Parks and as history shaped this borough, it has a disparity with most of its parks on the South Shore in contrast to its urbanized north. When an opportunity arises to transform a sizable parcel into a park, civic activists and elected officials spring into action. That is how the former Blissenbach Marina on the Kill Van Kull was transformed from an abandoned brownfield into a waterfront park.


The views from the 9.7-acre Heritage Park include the Bayonne Bridge and boats being repaired at the neighboring Caddell Dry Dock. The neighborhood here is not very residential, but the parking lot and bus stop provide access to visitors coming from further afield. Continue reading


Clay Pit Ponds, Staten Island

With plans underway to transform the landfills along Jamaica Bay into a 407-acre State Park, it is an ideal time to focus on the current largest State Park within NYC, the 265-acre Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve on Staten Island. It is a post-industrial landscape reclaimed by nature as a thick forest and wetland with five named ponds and two named brooks.

sharrotts pond.JPG

The largest of these is Sharrotts Pond, glacial kettle pond near the southern edge of the park. Unlike many of the city’s parks, there are no high-rises peeking from behind the treetops, so the view is truly natural.

Continue reading

Silver Lake Reservoir, Staten Island

On Staten Island there are four golf courses, three operated by city, and a private one operating on state-owned land. The Silver Lake Golf Course is located on rolling terrain on the slope of the Silver Lake Reservoir.


The shape of the lake resembles an expanded number eight with a dam across the lake’s midpoint to separate its two basins. Once a natural waterway, it was drained in 1913, lined with concrete and connected to the city’s aqueduct.

Continue reading

Fresh Kills at Queens Museum

This past Friday, I was invited to speak about my book before the annual investors conference for the 22nd Annual Investors conference of the NYC Municipal Water Finance Authority. It took place at Queens Museum, which coincided with Maintenance Art, an exhibit on the ecology, history, and future of Fresh Kills by Mierle Laderman Ukeles.

freshkills ukeles1.jpg

The central piece of the exhibit was a model of Landing, an overlooks inside the dump-turned-park that will offer visitors a view of the city’s largest naturalistic landscape. What’s an architecture piece from Staten Island park doing at the Queens Museum? Continue reading

Charles W. Leng’s Wonderful Map

When I am not getting my shoes wet by exploring streams, I look carefully at old maps and aerials in search of where the hidden waterways once flowed in the open. Last week, I conducted a park inspection in the far-off Travis neighborhood of Staten Island, where the Parks Department has a plant nursery.


The plant nursery is a former farm, and on one of its walls is a 1968 reproduction of Charles W. Leng’s 1896 Map of Staten Island with Ye Olde Names & Nicknames by William T. Davis. There is so much information on it relating to the island borough’s history. Let’s zoom in on a few details. Continue reading

Willow Brook on Bradley, Staten Island

Among the hidden waterways on Staten Island, Willow Brook is so obscure that a Google Street View isn’t good enough to tell the difference between an overgrown vacant lot and an overgrown vacant lot with the sound of a brook flowing beneath the vegetation. The only way to find Willow Brook is to see it in person.

 w bk 1.jpg

I had my encounter with a segment of Willow Brook while traveling down Bradley Avenue on the way to Greenbelt Nature Center, where I was conducting an inspection. Continue reading

Mid-Century GIS

As you may know, much of my research for Hidden Waters of New York City does not involve paddling, swimming, or walking away from my desk. It involves having a grasp of GIS: geographic information systems where one compares maps of the same location to determine what lies beneath the surface. Even when the internet is down and there is no time to take the bus to the New York Public Library, I have an excellent resource down the hall from my desk at the Parks Department headquarters.


The topographical map above is undated. Taking a closer look at what’s there and what’s not there helps narrow down the approximate time of its publication and take stock of the changes on the city’s landscape since this map appeared. Continue reading

Peer Reviewed Book

When an author has a book reviewed by a peer, it is an experience that is at once exciting but also anxious. What would he say about my book? Is it deserving of his review? I am proud to have had my book read and reviewed today by The Bowery Boys, a blog founded by Greg Young and Tom Meyers. Since 2007, they’ve recorded podcasts of city history available to the public on their website and through iTunes, among other platforms.

silverlake 1915.jpg

Click on the above 1915 postcard of Staten Island’s Silver Lake to read the full review and interview on Hidden Waters of New York City by The Bowery Boys. Last month, they recently released a book of their ownBowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York is available at all online book retailers including the venerable Strand Books.

Canal Street, Staten Island

Each of New York City’s boroughs has its own Broadway. Likewise, Manhattan has a famous Canal Street, and there is also one in the South Bronx and another in Coney Island, Brooklyn. It’s no surprise then that Staten Island has a Canal Street of its own in the neighborhood of Stapleton.

canal title

It’s a street with plenty of history but nothing to suggest that a stream once flowed along its path. Continue reading

Jack’s Pond, Staten Island

Where the street grid covered numerous ponds across the city’s boroughs, the youngest of them, Staten Island still has plenty to offer. Along the island’s south shore, numerous ponds and creeks that were once erased by mapmakers in favor of yet-to-be-built streets have reemerged within the Staten Island Bluebelt. Launched in 1990 by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, the program involves acquiring privately-owned wetlands and re-purposing them as storm water drainage corridors, essentially allowing nature to channel the excess water rather than having it travel through sewers.

jacks pond 1

These preserved ribbons of open space function not only as storm water channels but also as parks and nature preserves in a rapidly developing borough. Among the 19 designated Bluebelt properties on the South Shore is Jack’s Pond, an apparent throwback to an earlier time in the Great Kills neighborhood.  Continue reading