Eliza, a fifth-grader who lives in Dongan Hills, believes a top-notch park is a place where there is almost too much to do.
Meagan, a mom from Rosebank who has a 22-month-old daughter, values cleanliness and a good social environment.
Todd, from Tottenville, who has a 6-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son, wants to feel transported when he goes to a park. “Like, you go there and you don’t feel like you’re in New York City,” he said.
They’ve all found places they love on Staten Island.
That’s not hard to believe, considering that Staten Island is known as the Borough of Parks. In fact, according to the Visit Staten Island website, there are more than 170 parks and playgrounds open here, covering some 12,300 acres. And the borough’s not done yet: When Freshkills Park is fully built out and open (for the next generation’s use) in 20 years, another 2,300 acres will be added.
Currently, there are two major state-operated green spaces on Staten Island — Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve in Charleston, and the Mount Loretto Unique Area in Pleasant Plains.
The National Parks Service operates Gateway National Recreation Area, which stretches along the shore from Queens to Sandy Hook, N.J., and includes beaches and recreation areas along Staten Island’s East Shore from Fort Wadsworth (where, among other things, you can make reservations to camp overnight) and continues south to Great Kills Park and Nichols Marina.
Most of the borough’s parks, however, are run by New York City — and Staten Island residents make good use of them.
Grasmere resident Nicole gets out to Clove Lakes Park in Sunnyside about once a week with her 1-year-old daughter, Liliana.
“I used to run for high school. I went to New Dorp. I love all the different trails. Now, I’m in the military. I put her in a jogging stroller and go on the trails,” said Nicole. As she pushed her daughter in a swing, a smile spread across the little girl’s face.
Nicole’s friend Meagan, meanwhile, just a few feet away, was keeping a watchful eye on her daughter, who was navigating a climbing structure. Meagan said that while she grew up playing in DiMatti Playground in Rosebank, she prefers Clove Lakes Park now. “It’s cleaner. There’s so much to do. You can go for a walk, blow bubbles, sit on the grass. She loves the park,” said Meagan, nodding toward her daughter.
Joe from Mariners Harbor and his 7-year-old son, Jo-Jo, often head to Walker Park in Livingston, between Bard and Davis Avenues. The basketball courts there are a big draw for both father and son, but Joe said if basketball isn’t your thing, you can still stay busy. “There’s tennis, nice shade, swings,” he said. His son says it’s a great place to “run around.”
Miranda Mancuso of Prince’s Bay has three children — ages 3, 5, and 6. She said she’s drawn to Swinnerton Park, formerly known as Lenape Park, tucked away near the grounds of historic Conference House Park in Tottenville. In addition to swings and climbing structures, Mrs. Mancuso likes the hiking path nearby that courses near the shore. “They like to walk on the path,” she said of her children. For herself, Mrs. Mancuso called the park “quaint and quiet.” “No one bothers you over there,” she added.
Todd and his family like the Mount Loretto Unique Area because, he said, “you don’t need a playground.” “You think you’re upstate in Tarrytown or somewhere when you’re there. Especially in the fall, it’s very pretty.”
Aside from three distinct hiking trails (The Wetlands, Grassland, and Beach Loop), Mount Loretto Unique Area is a great place to bird-watch. The park also offers visitors fresh- and salt-water fishing, biking, kayaking, and canoeing.
At 2,800 acres, Staten Island’s sprawling Greenbelt wraps around the center of Staten Island like a beautiful bow. Beneath its boughs, there are actually several distinct parks and recreation areas. These range from the Greenbelt Recreation Center at 501 Brielle Ave. and the Nature Center at 700 Rockland Ave., where classes, activities, and exhibits are offered, to Willowbrook Park, home of the popular Carousel for All Children, located off Eton Place.
Willowbrook Park also features an archery range, catch-and-release fishing, picnic areas, and tennis courts. (The tennis courts, however, have been closed pending repair to the asphalt.)
If hiking is in your plans, head for the Greenbelt’s High Rock Park, located at 200 Nevada Ave. off Rockland Ave, where a number of trails loop through the woods, some to man-made Moses Mountain and beautiful Lake Ohrbach.
Sometimes, however, it’s familiarity that makes a park a favorite.
The Hambric family of St. George — Keisha, Tyrone and their daughters, 8 year-old Genesis, and 4 year-old Ava — love Silver Lake Park. “Our friends go there,” said Mrs. Hambric, “and it’s close by. They made that nice little playground for children on the Victory Boulevard side. There are swings and playground equipment. We’ve done Frisbee there, had parties there.”
If you haven’t taken advantage of the wealth of outdoor play spaces on Staten Island, now’s the time to get out and explore. It may be cliché, but it’s true: There is absolutely something for everyone!
Play Places for Everyone
Some parks are especially suited to individuals with special needs. The keyword to look for in a park’s online description is “accessible.” Here are a few standouts on Staten Island.
Bloomingdale Park, intersection of Ramona Avenue on the north and Bloomingdale Road on the west, Prince’s Bay. Neat features for kids of all ages and abilities, including Sway Fun, a wheel chair-accessible glider. This 13.8-acre park also includes a fitness path, playground, bathrooms, dog run and spray shower. For information, call 718-585-7117.
Carousel for All Children, located in Willowbrook Park, 2 Eton Place, Willowbrook. This attraction was constructed between 1997 and 1999 by Carousel Works in Mansfield, Ohio — the only company in North America that crafts wooden carousels. The merry-go-round features 51 hand-carved horses, mythical beasts and endangered species. It is handicap-accessible and staff is available to provide assistance. Designated parking is nearby with low curbs. The carousel opened on May 7 this year and will operate daily through August; then on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only in September and October. One two-minute ride costs $2. For information, call 718-351-3450, or visit sigreenbelt.org/carousel-for-all-chldren/.
Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, 83 Nielsen Ave., Charleston. The site of extensive mining for white kaolin clay in the 19th century, the park’s abandoned pits are now filled with rain and spring water. The park boasts 180 bird species, including 57 species of migratory songbirds. Bathrooms are available. The park has some accessible features including an Interpretive Center where workshops and demonstrations on things like pond ecology, birds, and plant and tree identification, are held. The picnic facilities are also accessible. For information, call 718-967-1976.
Drumgoole Tot Lot in Rossville is named in honor of Father John Drumgoole, an Irish priest who was a child-care pioneer and founder of St. Vincent’s Home for Homeless Newsboys at Mount Loretto. It provides a playground for community children of all abilities between the ages of 2 and 5. New accessible recreational equipment, swings, benches, and picnic table allow young park users to play and climb. The playground is located within a triangular Greenstreet, which is bordered by Drumgoole Road West, Rathbun Avenue and Carlton Boulevard. • www.nycgovparks.org/parks/drumgoole-tot-lot.
Jennifer’s Park or “Playground for All Children,” is located near intersection of Jules Drive, Elson Court and Regis Drive in Graniteville (near P.S. 22). This neighborhood playground without barriers is named in memory of a young girl who had Down syndrome and attended P.S. 22. Features basketball courts, a recreation center, playground, spray shower on 1.6 acres. • www.nycgovparks.org/parks/jennifers-playground.
Mount Loretto Unique Area, 6450 Hylan Blvd., Pleasant Plains, 200 acres of grasslands, wetlands, and coastal shoreline is adding the following accessible features to the property: Trail, parking lot, and fishing platform. • www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/8291.html
By Marjorie Hack