When most tourists embark on the Staten Island Ferry, it’s usually for the free round-trip tour of the harbor and photo op with Lady Liberty. But get off the boat, and you’ll soon find something Staten Island has that all the other boroughs don’t: access to Mother Nature. It’s not the well-manicured, hemmed-in patches of green squeezed between buildings and boulevards, but scraggily, sprawling, even wild woods and fields.
Start exploring the overgrowth at Fort Wadsworth, which occupies 226 acres on the northeastern shore of Staten Island, just under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Built immediately before the Civil War, the fort and surrounding parkland offer not just a history lesson but plenty of solitary, wistful gazes out to sea.
If it’s warm enough, slip on a pair of sandals (or remove them altogether) and head south along the water via the 2.5-mile Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk and Beach — just be prepared to dodge multiple Frisbees and frisky dogs. If you want to get in the water, dive in or rent a kayak at one of the launch stations.
If you’d like to get a more intimate view of life below the water, Staten Island’s Ocean Breeze Fishing Pier juts 835 feet into the water from Midland Beach. There, local fishermen regularly pull in striped bass, weakfish and bluefish. For bluefish, flounder, porgy and blackfish, drop your line off St. George’s fishing pier, just outside the ferry terminal.
Botanists and bird watchers should head to the 194-acre Mount Loretto Unique Area nature preserve, near the south end of the island, where dozens of bird species like Orchard Orioles, Willow Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds and Great Horned Owls flit among the wetlands.
The crown jewel of Staten Island, however, is the Greenbelt, which takes up 2,800 acres of woodlands, wetlands, open fields and hiking trails at the island’s center. For residents, it’s also the premier spot for jogging, hiking, picnicking and many other outdoor activities. Highlights include the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge, Moses’ Mountain and High Rock Park, a designated National Environmental Education Landmark.
But perhaps the greatest thing about the Greenbelt is that it is the only place in all of New York City where you can make the skyscrapers and metropolitan machinery disappear from sight and sound and turn back the time to when Henry Hudson’s ship first entered the harbor.