The effort to connect the tracts that now form the Greenbelt into one contiguous park occurred in response to the increasing urbanization of the area, following the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964. Woodlands were cleared, and streams, ponds and wetlands were filled as the region's landscape was being permanently altered. A private group of citizens, working to halt the construction of the Richmond Parkway, pressed for the acquisition of all the natural areas in the vicinity. With the establishment of its centerpiece, High Rock Park, in 1965, the formation of the consolidated Greenbelt was well on its way, with its official designation taking place in 1984.
Since the region was preserved as a means of protecting a portion of the island's natural habitat, much of the park's tidal and freshwater wetlands, woodlands, open fields and meadows have been retained in their native state. Within the park is an outcrop of rare serpentine bedrock which underlies the length of the North American continent. The Greenbelt is one of the few places in which this dense, waxy, green and brown rock is exposed above the surface. Kettle holes, steep hills and large boulders are marks of the movement of the Wisconsin glacier. The variety of soils deposited during the glacier's passage allowed for a diversity of plant and animal species to inhabit the region. Today these areas function as resting places for migratory birds.
High Rock Park
An old fieldstone house in High Rock Park is the headquarters for The Greenbelt and Greenbelt Conservancy employees. The house sits at the end of a long driveway and is surrounded by woods and meandering trails. One of the questions most often asked by visitors to the Stone House is "Who lived here?"
The answer provides an interesting glimpse into Staten Island's rural past. In 1912, when what we now know of as High Rock Park was divided into privately-owned parcels of land. The Tonking family purchased twelve acres to establish a poultry business that they called "Mayroyd Farm." Other parts of High Rock were owned by the Vanderbilt, Walker and Ebbit families (prior to this, in 17th century and earlier, all of the land belonged to local Indians). In 1921 the Tonkings completed the rustic stone house, but never actually lived in it. In the 1930's, after key members of the family died, the property was sold to the Ball family who had intended to raise horses on the site but never actually did. In the 1940's, the Ball family sold the property to the Boy Scouts of America for $35,000. In the 1950's, several parcels that now make up High Rock were sold to the Girl Scouts who ran a summer "Day-Hiking" camp. In 1965, after complicated negotiations with the developer who had purchased High Rock from the Girl Scouts, the City of New York took ownership of the land and turned responsibility for running the park over to the Staten Island Institute of Arts & Sciences. In July of 1965, High Rock Nature Conservation Center opened to the public. In 1971, it was designated an "Educational Landmark" by the United States Department of the Interior, one of only eleven such awards at the time. It was the first to be named in the field of environmental education.
Today, the former Tonking House, and the 77 acres that make up High Rock Park are part of the 2500 acres of public and private land (High Rock Park is New York City-owned property) that comprise the Greenbelt in central Staten Island.