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Reed's Basket Willow Swamp Park

Reed's Basket Willow Swamp Park

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

This park’s unusual name is inspired by the Read family, owners of the land for several generations. John Read (1786-1849), started a family tradition when he decided to try his luck at basket making, and planted the swampy land around his farm with purple willow trees. The willow tree buds every spring, at which point it is at the peak condition to be harvested. The sap flowing under the bark makes it easy for farmers to peel the bark off the trunk. After the bark has been removed and soaked in water, it is cut into strips and woven into the distinctive baskets.

Basket weaving was a common occupation among rural Staten Islanders. The island’s ecological conditions promoted the industry by providing a perfect climate for the willow, oak, and ash trees needed for the manufacture. The work was highly specialized, requiring a long apprenticeship to learn the tools and techniques of production. Local craftsmen continued to make baskets on Staten Island even after other, much cheaper, mass-produced containers became available in the 1870s. The story of the Read family ended in an odd fashion, however, when the son of John Read sold the house and land. He then “grew despondent,” and burned the house down.

A forest covers nearly half the area of this property. Young oak (Quercus spp.) predominates, interspersed with birches (Betula spp.), tulip magnolias (Liriodendron tulipifera), hickory (Carya spp.), and chestnut trees (Castanea spp.). Hiking trails guide explorers through the woods. The yellow trail can be found on Ocean Terrace near Todt Hill Road, and at the top of Emerson Court. Three ponds and a swamp area round out the terrain.

Brooks and ponds were a common sight on Staten Island up until the 1950s, when construction of pipelines and trenches began to wreak changes on the physical landscape. Large cranes and bulldozers loosened the soil surrounding open water, causing serious erosion. The depth and area of many ponds was severely reduced. The Great Swamp (now known as Long Creplebush), Clove Valley Swamp, Lower Swamp, and Reed’s Basket Willow Swamp (Upper Swamp) were some of the larger bodies of water to be affected by construction. While some of the natural vegetation in these areas was killed off as a result of the changing ecosystem, these changes opened the way for vigorous new growth. Blackberry bushes (Rubus allegheniensis), Japanese knotweed (Polyganum cuspidatum), swamp white azaleas (Rhododendron viscosum), and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) are just a few of the many species of trees and shrubs presently found in the park.

In 1978, the property was designated as a protected freshwater wetland by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, permanently ensuring its preservation under state law. The City had acquired the property in the early 1970s, and it was transferred to Parks on November 18, 1980 in recognition of its ecological importance and protected status. By 1997, the addition of several parcels of land swelled the park to its current size.

Reed’s Basket Willow Swamp lies at the top of Emerson Court, bounded by Ocean Terrace and Merrick Avenue. It is part of the Greenbelt, the largest subsystem of parks located in New York City. Established in 1984 and covering nearly 3,000 acres in central Staten Island, the Greenbelt is home to a variety of plant and animal life, as well as roughly 28 miles of nature trails. Other parks in the system include High Rock Environmental Center and Greenbelt Headquarters, Greenbelt Native Plant Nursery, the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge, LaTourette Park, and Willowbrook Park. The Greenbelt Conservancy, Inc., founded in 1989, helps Parks to protect and care for the Greenbelt, sponsoring weekend nature walks and other environmental education programs and festivals.

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Directions to Reed's Basket Willow Swamp Park

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