Mariner’s Marsh Park
The unique topography of Mariner's Marsh Park has arisen partly from human handiwork, with nature completing the setting. Dotting the park's varied landscape are ten ponds, all of which were created in the early 20th century, when this was a bustling industrial workplace. Today, wildlife has reclaimed the area. The story of Mariner's Marsh represents a welcome twist to the typical scenario of environmental destruction at the hands of industrial development. Here animals and plants have benefitted from human alterations to the environment. People have lived, prospered, and altered the environment in Mariner's Marsh Park for centuries. Ancestors of the Lenape Indians camped here. Their burial and village sites were uncovered during an archaeological dig by the Museum of Natural History in the early 1900's. Native Americans survived on the rich beds of shellfish and other wildlife that flourished in the nearby salt marshes along the Island's shoreline (some of these marshes still exist today).
The origin of the present-day landscape dates to about 1903, when the Milliken Brothers' Structural Iron Works and Rolling Mill built its plant here. Considered one of the world's largest manufacturers of steel products, Milliken Brothers survived until 1917, when the plant was converted to Downey's Shipyard. During World War I, the Mariner's Marsh area was bustling with activity. Downey's was fulfilling its large government shipbuilding contracts, and nearby, the Proctor and Gamble Company had established its tremendous factory for Ivory Soap and other products. As industrial activity on Staten Island waned in the latter half of the 20th century, these companies departed, leaving eerie ruins in their wake. Concrete supports and pylons, many of which have fallen into picturesque decay, silently tell of the site's industrial past. These structures supported a system of rails and runners which transported newly-built ships to water. Before this system was built, however, the area's water table had to be exposed. Extensive sand mining, which lowered the grade and brought the water table to the surface for the ships, created the basins which today hold ponds.
The natural integrity of the Mariner's Marsh area has undergone many challenges due to industry, illegal dumping, and neglect. However, its value as a wildlife habitat has been recognized for many years. Area residents have historically appealed to the City concerning the lack of parkland on the Island's north shore. Mariner's Marsh was formally declared New York City parkland in 1997, due in part to the determined efforts of the Mariner's Marsh Conservancy. A non-profit volunteer group founded by local residents in 1995, the Conservancy conducts clean-ups, restoration work, educational programs, and research as well as serving as an advocate for Mariner's Marsh. A walk through Mariner's Marsh Red and White trails reveals the area's diversity of habitats and the wildlife they support. These include a Pin Oak swamp (with many trees from the 19th century), prairie grasslands near the Arlington Railyards, and the ten-pond system which is connected by small ditches and streams. The soils support several oak species, rare sedges, highbush blueberry, and many other plants. American Bittersweet, a vine with colorful red and yellow fruits, has been discovered in the park, making it the only known site for this species in New York City.
Throughout the year, the ponds are active with waterfowl, and the grassy areas support uncommon birds such as the vesper sparrow. Short-eared owls use the park for their hunting grounds. Birds from the nearby Harbor Heron rookeries on Shooter's and Prall's Islands can be seen searching for food in the waterways. Muskrats plow through the waterways and build their lodges in the ponds.