Arbutus Woods Park
Arbutus Woods Park
The trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) plant used to grow in sandy or rocky clearings all over Staten Island. However, the species has been locally extinct since the 1940s. The plant, which is known for its clusters of tiny white or pink flowers, trailing woody stems, and leathery green oval leaves, would bloom in this area during April and May. But local residents enthusiastically harvested the plant as a salad vegetable, and it can no longer be found anywhere on the island. Botanists continue to search parklands such as this one, hoping that the leaves of larger plants hide the small trailing arbutus.
This park, located at Eyelandt, Stecher and Colon Streets, is part of the Arbutus Creek watershed, which was assigned to Parks by the Department of Real Property in December 1994. Along with the nearby Arbutus Creek Blue Belt, this site provides the local area with natural and cost-effective flood protection, receiving storm water runoff which creates a vernal pond in the park during wet conditions. Such ponds dry up in the summer and make way for sweet-pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) and swamp-loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus), which yields a distinct purple flower. Because of these wet conditions and the important part the park plays in abating floodwaters, it was deemed unsuitable for use as the ballfield for which it was originally planned.
This site was dear to William Thomas Davis (1862-1945), a renowned naturalist and entomologist. Davis was born in New Brighton, and over the course of his career added much to our knowledge of Staten Island’s civic and scientific history. His books include Days Afield on Staten Island, Staten Island and Its People, and Staten Island Names, Ye Olde Nick Names. Davis was among the group of local historians and scientists who founded the Staten Island Institute for Arts and Sciences in 1881. On its 100th anniversary in 1991, the institute issued a commemorative edition of Days Afield on Staten Island in honor of Davis’ contributions to the people of Staten Island.
During the Great Depression, the federal government established the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to employ Americans in a series of public construction projects. Almost 19,000 New Yorkers labored on Staten Island. They built sidewalks through wooded areas that were supposed to eventually have roads laid through them. Many of these planned roads were never built, but the sidewalks remain in many of the island’s parks, including this one. Remnants of unfinished roadbeds for Eyelandt and Collins Avenues run through or near the park as well.
Today, this park is home to several varieties of birds, including the melodious whip-poor-will, which can sometimes be heard in the evening. A springtime stroll through this wetland park still offers the glimpse of nature that inspired Davis to write, “Do not let us have June right away, for then it is July and then Autumn, and then our year is gone...So hasten back to spring, to the blood-root blossoms, to the arbutus and to the blues.” Although it is no longer home to its namesake, Arbutus Woods Park remains a bucolic setting for local residents to enjoy.