South Beach Wetlands
South Beach Wetlands
These wetlands, which take their name from the surrounding community of South Beach, were assigned to Parks by the City of New York on December 30, 1999. The park’s 4.794 acres are undeveloped wilderness, home to an exciting variety of plant and animal species.
Originally part of a small 1661 Dutch settlement, the coastal neighborhoods of Middle and South Beach saw very little change until the 1880s. During that period, investors began to recognize the potential of opening the wide beaches to the teeming mass of Manhattanites trying to escape the city’s summer heat. With the additions of hotels, bathing pavilions, theaters, beer gardens, shooting galleries, carousels, and Ferris wheels, the beachfront property was transformed almost overnight.
Soon casinos and the Happyland Amusement Park, taking full advantage of the seasonal closure traditional in the Broadway theaters of the time, began attracting larger crowds with stage productions and vaudeville shows. By 1890, ferries, trains, and trolleys were filled to capacity by vacationers and day-outers vying to reach Staten Island’s beaches. By the 1920s, summer crowds along the Staten Island beach could number upwards of 40,000 visitors. Eventually, though, fires, water pollution, and the Great Depression (1929-1939) took their toll on the beachfront resort area, and the crowds began to disappear. Renovations sponsored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) revitalized the neighborhood, replacing the deteriorating music halls and shooting galleries with two-and-a-half miles of boardwalk. South Beach has continued to change over the years, but it has remained an active community center and an inviting scenic resort.
The preservation of the South Beach Wetlands is part of a growing trend of greening on the South Shore. Through the efforts of community and environmentalist groups, the neighboring 110.398 acres of Ocean Breeze Park and the Last Chance Pond in Dongan Hills have been added to the roster of protected wildernesses. Like Ocean Breeze, the South Beach Wetlands, once part of the wide tidal meadows threaded with small creeks, were slowly polluted, and ultimately converted to sewer channels and capped with sand. Efforts to restore the original network of channels have been carried out in Ocean Breeze in the hope of flood reduction and natural filtration for the surrounding area. The protection of these delicate ecosystems is essential to the maintenance of balance for Staten Island’s endangered water table.
The Wetlands are really two parcels of land, one directly bounded by Quincy Avenue, Quintard and Vulcan Streets. Across Oceanside Avenue, another small parcel of land between Vulcan and McLaughlin Streets completes the property. The area is marshy, surrounded by patchy emergent forest and scrub-shrub wetlands in sandy upland. Trees and shrubs in the area include the black willow (Salix nigra), eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), gray birch (Betula populifolia), northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), winged sumac (Rhus copallina), and pussy willow (Salix discolor).
Among the herbs and smaller plants to be found are the bushy goldenrod (Euthamia tenuifolia), gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia), Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), indian-hemp (Apocynum cannbinum), Sprianthes cemua (an orchid), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), scouring rush (Equisetum hymenale), weeping lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula), the indomitable intruder phragmites, and globe flatsedge (Cpyerus echinata).