May Walk Through the Greenbelt
Updated: Jun 14
Four times a year, the environmental organization Protectors of Pine Oak Woods schedules a 10-mile walk throughout the Staten Island Greenbelt. These walks are named in honor of Dick Buegler and are called The Richard Buegler 10-Mile Greenbelt Walks. We have four signature routes, each for a different season, designed to highlight the best areas the Greenbelt has to offer. Springtime is an optimal time to spot wildlflowers in bloom, especially the pinxter azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), our native azalea and Staten Island's official flower. We came across many specimens at peak blooming and were happy to have scheduled the walk at this time.
Pinxter azalea, Staten Island's official flower blooming in the Greenbelt. (Photo credit: Hillel Lofaso)
Eight people joined us on a Sunday in early May for the springtime walk. The morning was cloudy, but bright, with one brief shower, and the skies cleared up nicely in the afternoon. Our trek began from the Greenbelt Nature Center and followed the Nature trail to the Blue trail towards Rockland Avenue, then we shifted briefly to the White trail to pick up the Red trail on the way to the LaTourette Greenway along Forest Hill Road.
Soon we joined the Yellow trail into the woods again and walked by vernal ponds filled with skunk cabbage along a lively branch of Richmond Creek near the historic Ketchum's mill. We spooked two black vultures who had been feeding on carrion in the nearby brush and they took shelter on the low branches of an adjacent tree—no doubt waiting for us to pass so they could finish their meal. After crossing the creek, we made our way to the Blue trail again and climbed up the bluff overlooking Old Mill Road and Richmond Creek. The Blue trail leads to the LaTourette Golf Course with its club house located in the 19th century brick farmhouse owned by David LaTourette.
We decided to have lunch at High Rock Park. We left the club house, picked up the Red trail by the entrance to Edinboro Road and walked in the woods till we reached Meisner Avenue and Rockland Avenue. We picked up the Yellow trail again that leads to Mt. Moses. Although it was not a stop on today's itinerary, it is worth exploring on its own sometime. There is a small parking area at the trail head near the intersection of Manor Road and Rockland Avenue. We climbed the hills of the Yellow trail to High Rock Park where we had lunch at some picnic tables just inside the gates.
For the second half of the walk, we continued on the Yellow trail through High Rock, pausing to admire Orbach Lake in adjacent Pouch Boy Scout Camp. (In 2012 the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, working with the Trust for Public Land, purchased a conservation easement from the Boy Scouts of America ensuring that they could never sell their property at Pouch Camp for development.) We paused at Hourglass Pond where one of us recalled seeing a little blue heron a few weeks ago. As if on cue, I spotted the bird to the delight of my fellow hikers. The heron wore his bright, deep blue plumage well, as he hunted in the pond. We watched as he deftly speared a meal. Several garter snakes were slithering in the water as well. Who knew they were such good swimmers?
"Egretta caerulea (Little Blue Heron)" by bob in swamp is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Soon we reached the Overlook at Richmond County Country Club (RCCC) Golf Course. The view from here is forever associated with the painting Looking Oceanward from Todt Hill, 1895 by Jasper F. Cropsey. The view has largely remained unchanged and will remain so in the future thanks to the purchase of the RCCC golf course properties by NY State in 1989, allowing the corporation to enjoy a 99-year lease, paying only $1 a year for the privilege. Others enjoy the windfall for natural areas protection and open space preservation, too: In recent years, a large Second Empire style house was built on an adjacent lot. The ostentatiousness of the home overlooking the golf course, with sweeping, uninterrupted views to the ocean, cannot be overstated. It's hoped the new property owners appreciate that the view and open space preservation were purchased by the taxpayers of the state.
Looking Oceanward from Todt Hill, 1895 by Jasper F. Cropsey
The view today at the Richmond County Country Club Golf Course.
Second Empire mansion under construction (now complete) on the edge of the uninterrupted iconic view.
We backtracked a little on the Yellow trail to an unmarked path that led us down the steep slopes of the ridge past a kettle pond that was ringed with frogs. We laughed to hear the frogs jump in the water one by one with a quick yelp! at our approach. This part of the Greenbelt is also in Pouch Boy Scout Camp.
We journeyed on an unmarked trail through Pouch Camp to the Jewish Community Center across Manor Road. There we met a man crossing the road who said, "The turkeys are out today!" Confused, we called out: Do you mean us??! However, he really meant it. There was a tom in full courtship display on the lawn, wooing two hens.
At one end of the JCC there is a weird little gate in the fence that they leave unlocked so hikers can access the trail on the other side of the property. Such are the quirks of the Greenbelt, where unpreserved city property that once allowed hikers unfettered access to trails in the Greenbelt were sold and developed, and public trails were rerouted on the peripheries, allowing the Greenbelt properties to be stitched together. The next stretch of our walk was through Blood Root Valley and Buck's Hollow, a beautiful walk through mature woods along a deep ravine sheltering Richmond Creek. On the other side of the trail are the old Seaview Hospital buildings, used back in the day when Seaview was a well-known sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis.
Soon we crossed Rockland Avenue again, picked up the Blue trail and returned to the Nature Center where our trail began. In actuality, we clocked in at just 11 miles. My bike ride home was up the long uphill climb of Brielle Avenue to Walcott Avenue. It was all downhill then, which—when you factor in my having just walked 11 miles—was just as well!
The mapped route of the spring 10-miler, starting and ending at the Greenbelt Nature Center.