Arden Woods

Arden Heights Woods

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616) set “As You Like It” in the Forest of Arden, a wooded area in Central England. When Canadian publisher Erastus Wiman (1834-1904) purchased a farm on Staten Island in 1886, he felt it was as beautiful as those woods described by Shakespeare. Today, the area in which that farm stood is called the Woods of Arden, and Arden Avenue is named after the woods. Arden Heights, the neighborhood in which this park is located, takes its name from the avenue that runs through it.

Most of Arden Heights Woods is a forested hardwood swamp. The site is actually the largest wetlands that the Department of Environmental Conservation has classified anywhere in the New York metropolitan area. It contains several kettle ponds (bodies of water formed by glaciers) which are connected by an intricate network of streams and creeks. As such, it provides natural flood control for the area, making a more complicated (and expensive) man-made sewage system unnecessary.

The forests throughout the property are called successional forests. This is because they undergo a multi-stage lifecycle, beginning as open fields and maturing into hardwood forests. In the mature, or climax, portions of these forests live a multitude of trees, including hemlocks (Tsuga), black cherry (Prunus serotina), and persimmons (Diospyros). Perhaps most interesting of all the species present is the eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). During the early colonial period, wood from these trees was used for masts by the British Navy. The wood is five times lighter than white oak (Quercus alba), and therefore more suitable for seagoing vessels. This natural resource helped establish Staten Island as a maritime community early in its history.

In the swamps, there are two particularly notable species of plant life. The first, blue flags iris (Iris veriscolor) blooms from May through July, with its namesake violet blue flowers. These plants can be recognized by their sword-like leaves even when not in bloom. The second, the common reeds, or phragmites, are members of the grass family. They thrive in both brackish and fresh water marshes, and can grow to be 12 feet tall. Phragmites often invade wetlands at the expense of other native marsh plants.

Many owls frequent this site, including the screech owl (Otus asio), saw whet owl (Aegolius acadicus), great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), and the barn owl (Tyto alba). Occasionally, a barred owl (Strix varia) from the south will venture this far north. This bird is known as the “Southern Gentleman” because it makes the distinct sound suggestive of “who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all.” Bats come here for shelter and food, and the swamp’s ample insect population helps satisfy their appetite; in one year, the average bat consumes fifty times its body weight in insects.

A cemetery that belonged to the Journeay family once stood on this site. The family plot was all but forgotten until the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries acted to preserve it in 1988. The group moved ten of the thirteen remaining headstones to a safer location and encouraged the City to recognize the site and appreciate its historical value by showing it on official maps.

The Department of Real Property assigned the first 174.785 acres of this property to Parks in 1993. Two years later, an additional 8.215 acres were assigned, making the boundaries of the site Arthur Kill Road, Arden Avenue, and Legate Avenue. At that time the property was considered for two new ball fields that would accommodate the quickly growing young population of Staten Island. However, because this is a precious wetlands, it remains undeveloped - a natural habitat to be passively enjoyed by visitors.

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