There’s a place on Staten Island where you can escape the hustle and bustle of city life, and get lost in nature. It’s a place where you can see marine mammals, exotic birds and cute ground-dwelling creatures—all for free. This charming place is Mount Loretto Unique Area.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) manages Mount Loretto Unique Area. Often called Mount Loretto for short, it’s located on the borough’s South Shore. The site encapsulates so many different kinds of beautiful habitat, including beach, forests, wetlands and more, all of which supply everything local wildlife and plants need to survive. Bordered by the Raritan Bay and South Shore neighborhoods including Prince’s Bay, most of this natural land is situated south of Hylan Boulevard.
Mount Loretto: A Brief Look at its History
The Archdiocese of New York once owned Mount Loretto. At one time, it housed a large orphanage that was started by Father John Drumgoole, in the 1890s. In 1973, a roaring fire destroyed Mount Loretto’s Church of St. Joachim and St. Anne. The fire was contained before it could affect nearby structures. At the time of the fire, the mission was sheltering 600 dependent children referred there from social service agencies and the courts, according to a New York Times article at the time.
There is more to this fascinating part of the site’s deep history that can be found in periodicals and online. Later in 1999, New York State purchased the area that encompasses Mount Loretto from the Archdiocese of New York. Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, a nature advocacy group based on Staten Island, was instrumental in making the sale happen so the natural space could be preserved for years to come.
The John Cardinal O’Connor Lighthouse (formerly the Princes’ Bay Lighthouse) can be found at Mount Loretto. The lighthouse and keeper’s cottage were built here in the 1860s. Today, the cottage is the residence for the local forest ranger.
Mount Loretto Unique Area Today
With a deep and fascinating history that dates back to at least the 1800s, the site today is a great location for enjoying the outdoors. After many years of preserving the land, this nature preserve offers more than 200 acres of natural space to explore. The site can provide an afternoon of free fun for families with kids of all ages. Any kid who’s fascinated by animals and nature, as well as anyone interested in local history, will enjoy exploring this unique area.
Activities to enjoy at Mount Loretto include:
- Hiking: The site has three main hiking trails: Wetlands Trail, Grassland Trail and Beach Loop. Hikers of all ages can learn about birds and other wildlife that live on site or pass through during their annual migration.
- Fishing: There’s a beautiful freshwater pond with an accessible fishing pier. The site also features saltwater fishing on Prince’s Bay (Learn more about fishing in NYC).
- Wildlife Watching: Really cool animals can be spotted year-round at Mount Loretto. These include purple martens, bald eagles, white-tailed deer, turtles, grasshoppers and many more species.
- Special Shout Out to Seals: Staten Islanders might be shocked to learn that harbor seals live here, too! Often, these magnificent marine mammals can be seen basking on rocks right off the shoreline of the site. If you go, bring your binoculars so you can get the best view possible.
- Biking: Families can ride their bikes at Mount Loretto, but only on asphalt surfaces.
Protectors of Pine Oak Woods holds many events throughout the year that give families opportunities to learn more and explore nature at the site and other nearby natural spaces. Check out siparent.com to browse these and similar events happening throughout the borough.
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