Staten Island: 1 borough, 4 distinct shorelines

May 1, 2009 at 11:14 pm Leave a comment

A view of Staten Island from the sea presents a borough that is unmanicured at the edges; a borough that was organized around church spires, now empty factories and the green balloons of inland trees; a borough that no longer functions, much, as an island.

Departing by water taxi from Slip 7 at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy of Staten Island offered two recent environmental tours around the entire Island, offering a fresh perspective to students, teachers, environmental advocates and civic leaders.
All around the borough, one saw that nature and industry have been at war along the shoreline for more than a century, leaving behind a torn, abandoned battleground. And no clear victor.

Like miniature castles in a fish tank, half-sunken ferryboats and abandoned pilings that crop up in the borough’s waterways have become lost cities, populated by barnacles and striped bass.

And with that decay has come for many Staten Islanders a loss of the sense of island-dwelling, so seldom do they swim, fish, sail, or gaze seaward.

For those who got to join the tours held Saturday and the previous weekend, that sense was, for at least one morning, restored.

Departing from the St. George Ferry Terminal, the boat headed west along the Kill van Kull, or what is known to mariners as “Chemical Alley.”

Kerry Sullivan of the Natural Resources Protective Association described old and new industries as the boat ferried past the old Gypsum factory, a Jersey-side pudding factory and the Atlantic salt pile looking like a lost Alpine mountaintop. Onlookers remarked over the limited capacity of the sewage treatment plant on Richmond Terrace.

A classic archway framed an unused boat dock just outside of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, suggesting that the entrance to that site was originally meant to be seaside. Beyond the lifted tugs at Caddell Dry Dock & Repair Co. were abandoned dry docks in Mariners Harbor.

The Arlington Marsh, not far from the New York Container Terminal at Howland Hook and a sign warning boaters and shippers of a liquid petroleum pipeline, stood as a symbol of the fragility of the Island’s natural habitats.

Geese flew in a flock under the Goethals Bridge, whose concentric arches seemed to stretch endlessly landward.


Of all of Staten Island’s shores, the West Shore is visibly the least developed, devoted more to industry and infrastructure than residential support.

Prall’s Island, a marshy stretch wedged into the Arthur Kill, has been maintained as a bird sanctuary. But mature trees there were recently cut down in an effort to combat the spread of the Asian longhorned beetle, leaving piles of wood-chips strewn over the ground.

Beyond Prall’s Island were industrial dirt piles at the VanBro Construction Corp., Travis, Pratt Industries’ paper recycling plant, and still, glossy waters around what once was Linoleumville.

As boat-riders looked westward to Staten Island, approaching the landfill, they occasionally looked east and remarked on the merits of New Jersey.


Three features distinguish the South Shore from the other coastlines of the borough: Its private piers, its marinas and its boat graveyards.

In Rossville, the skeletons of rotting hulls form a graveyard that now serves as a habitat for birds, barnacles and fish. Here, one can canoe through the old “Blazing Star” ferryboat and see its rotting lifejackets inside.

The sun glinted off the domed, geodesic roofs at the Kinder Morgan site next to “Smoking Point,” a Native American dumping ground from which smoke signals used to rise from Ramapo and Lenape pipes.

Visible from the boat were the Kreischer Mansion, peeking out from behind the Tides of Charleston adult residential complex, Angelina’s Restaurant and manses with private piers in Tottenville, the pavilion at the Conference House, and the majestic spire of the church from Mount Loretto in Pleasant Plains.

A terrible stench lingered under the Outerbridge Crossing: A cross, riders said, between “death” and “an old bathing suit.”


The East Shore of Staten Island is arguably the section of the borough that is most connected to its waterfront.

North of Lemon Creek and the Great Kills Marina, waterfront communities give way to miles of recreational beaches.

One in our group pointed to the Cedar Grove Beach Club at New Dorp Beach and called it Staten Island’s best kept secret – a small, self-contained community with private access to some of the borough’s cleanest beaches.

With Todt Hill rising behind it, the East Shore is hillier than the other shores.

From afar, the Moravian Cemetery Mausoleum, the beacon on Lighthouse Hill and the South Beach Boardwalk are among the most conspicuous structures.

And among the most beautiful sights of the day were the views of the Narrows and its guardian, Fort Wadsworth. The strait under the colossal bridge that represents home to Island residents also serves as the gateway to all of New York City.


The outing was funded by a grant from the New York City Environmental Fund administered to the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy of Staten Island by the Hudson River Foundation.

 by Tevah Platt
SI Advance

Entry filed under: Go Coastal, Public Waterfront, Staten Island. Tags: , , , , , , .

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