At Forgotten NY, it’s been awhile since we settled into Thoreauvian mode and visited a part of town that in no way resembles the horn-honking, jolt-cola, cell-phone-yapping rest of town, got away from it all and, if not communed with nature, at least bowed our heads and let it believe it’s the true master.
A 20-minute ferry ride and then, a half hour ride on the Staten Island Railway, though, deposits you in a former small town and present-day neighborhood of Annadale, and from there a short walk down Poillon (that’s “pooyon”) Avenue , which is, believe it or not, one of the main drags, and you’re at the flowery gate of the Blue Heron Park Reserve.
Poillon Avenue at the park gate entrance.
ForgottenFans Dan Theisen and Kelly Hagstrand have identified these as purple coneflowers.
Blue Heron Park, in Staten Island’s southwest corner, is only one in a series of reserves known as the Bluebelt. Others include Long Pond, Lemon Creek, Jack’s Pond, Kingfisher Pond and Wood Duck Pond.
This part of Staten Island is a wetland, and ill-conceived cookie cutter housing has contributed to flooding problems in this part of town.
Blue Heron Pond Park has six separate ponds, including two large ones, which are frequented by the blue herons of the park’s title. Your webmaster didn’t see any of the elusive birds, but saw plenty of other things you wouldn’t otherwise see in New York City.
Set off along the trail next to the Heron Pond visitors center (which was closed the day Forgotten was there). The trees along this path are mostly red maples and ash, though you occasionally see sweet and sour gum trees as well.
If you follow the trail straight ahead (without following the divergent gallery to the left) you will soon find yourself…
…alongside Spring Pond, the largest pond in the park, and favorite blue heron haunt. Water lilies blossom along Poillon Avenue.
Double back over the boardwalk that takes the trail over Spring Pond, and take the path that diverges from the first path discussed earlier. This takes you over Poillon Avenue and into the heart of the park.
A short wooden bridge takes you over a brook.
Continue along the path, into the heart of the park, straight ahead. It’s a little hilly. This part of the pond is dominated by tulip trees and oaks, which grow nearly straight up. Native Americans used these trees to make longboats.
When you have forged ahead for about 800 feet you will reach a T. Turn right here, and walk toward the traffic noise. We will be close to busy Hylan Boulevard, but won’t have to cross it.
Follow another wooden bridge across the brook again. You will reach some high red brookbanks.
This giant oak (right), now fallen, stood here at least 300 years, and saw Verrazano, Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Ed Koch and Al Sharpton. Just recently, it met its demise.
By the way, take bug juice with you. Your Webmaster was eaten alive that day and sported three welts for a few days after leaving the forest.
You will have to ford the brook at this point, getting your shoes muddy perhaps, before picking up the trail on the other side. Climb an easy hill. Just before the trail reaches Hylan Boulevard, take a look to your left.
At this point, when you have reached Hylan Boulevard, turn around and double back along the path, over the brook, through the woods, and go past the original path you took that crossed Poillon Avenue. This time, go straight ahead. The path gets a little overgrown with grass and weeds, but the park management has helpfully put a boardwalk here and there to help you through.
Suddenly, the tall forest ends and you come to a clearing. But don’t go ahead through it yet. Just before you reach the clearing, look for a narrow path to your left. That path will take you to Blue Heron Pond, the second largest pond in the park. If you are lucky, the elusive blue heron may again appear.
Return to your original path (left) and continue along. The path makes a turn to the left and the forest reappears. Soon, you’ll be back at Poillon Avenue (below) and you’re done. Actually we’re far from done…there’s another park and some more exploring to do.
Walking south along Poillon Avenue you will soon find yourself reaching Hylan Boulevard. Turn right and continue along Staten Island’s main drag-racing boulevard for about a mile. Careful, since sidewalks weren’t considered necessary along certain spots. Go past stoplights at Arbutus and Huguenot Avenues. Look for Cornelia Avenue, turn left and walk on Cornelia to the end. You’re at…
…Wolfe’s Pond Park and Beach. This park is among NYC’s most obscure large parks and combined landscaped park with ballfields, a public beach, and a large natural section, which is the part of the park we’ll concern ourselves with today.
While Spring and Blue Heron Ponds were left behind by a glacier, Wolfe’s Pond is a freshwater pond situated a few yards from the salty Atlantic Ocean. The water remains fresh because silt and sand dam off the salty water from the ocean.
The park is named for original landowner Joel Wolfe, who farmed the land here until 1857. It became a public park in 1929.
Snowy egrets, like the one across the pond, as well as blue herons, kingfishers, ducks, geese can be found along the pond, and bird fans will also find waxwings, scarlet tanagers and thrushes in the woods.
A walk along the path along Wolfe Pond enables you to get lost, but not TOO lost, in the jumble of galleries and paths in the forest. One of the paths takes you to this giant black oak tree whose trunk boasts a five-foot diameter.
You will soon reach the southern end of Holton Avenue, at Purdy Place. There’s an old diner here; the sign says it’s been there since 1957. [2012: I do not know if it's still there]
Lemon Creek, which is being developed as a public park, meanders along Purdy Place as you walk west. Purdy Place comes to an end at Seguine Avenue.
One of the oldest houses in Staten Island can be found at the corner of Seguine and Purdy Place. The Manee-Seguine Homestead was originally built in 1690 and added to until 1820. Later, Joseph Purdy used it as a hotel. These days, however, the house seems to be in disrepair.
Further north along Seguine Avenue, the 1847 Joseph Seguine House can be seen at 440.
A group of unusual trees with gnarled trunks can be seen along the west side of Seguine Avenue. They are osage orange trees, which are not native to New York. They were planted here in 1840 by Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-creator of Central and Prospect Parks. The trees produce a fuzzy, inedible grapefruit-sized fruit in the fall. They are not citrus plants, but are more related to the mulberry.
This osage orange is the largest in New York State.
Continue north along Seguine to the SIRT, and you’ll be at the ferry and back in town in practically no time.
Secret Places of Staten Island, Bruce Kershner, Kendall Hunt 1998