For some, getting away from it all means a flight from JFK and a week at a remote beach in the tropics. For others, it simply means taking a ferry from Manhattan and hiking around Staten Island's shoreline for 6 days. Reporter Andy Newman of the NY Times recently did just that and explored the 57-mile coast of Staten Island, finding some amazing natural resources and equally interesting characters along the way. JB
August 13, 2006
By Andy Newman
There is a place in this city where teenagers go crabbing from the old railroad bridge, where people consider themselves residents of a town of half a dozen rather than of a metropolis of eight million, where the waterfront still harbors ancient secrets along with the inevitable clash of development interests.
It’s called Staten Island. It is the fastest growing county in New York State, yet it remains, in pockets, and in its peculiar way, the Alaska of New York City.
That is, a place where nature, however debased, still plays a role in daily life and where there is room to pursue a dream, whether that means amassing a mansion-full of musty antiques or a yard full of cars up on blocks patrolled by roosters, or building an artwork along a quarter mile of beachfront, or simply drinking a beer outside the corner store without having to hide it in a paper bag.
This Staten Island, somehow urban, rural and suburban at once, is hard to spot from the typical perspective of the nonislander taking a sight-seeing round-trip ferry from Manhattan or driving through to New Jersey and points west. But on a leisurely journey by foot, the island blossoms.
A recent six-day trek along the roads and trails and beaches that trace and skirt Staten Island’s 57-mile coastline turned up endless surprises, along with sufficient blackberries and sassafras leaves to sustain a hiker from one pizza place to the next.
Such a journey around Staten Island, the sixth-largest island in the continental United States, was not unprecedented. In 1679, two Dutch missionaries, Jasper Dankers and Peter Sluyter, rowed over from Brooklyn. They found the island aswarm with tasty wildlife — “well provided with wild turkeys, geese, snipe and woodhens” — but otherwise fairly inhospitable. After getting lost, they came upon an Englishwoman’s farmstead. They asked “for something to drink, and also for someone to show us the road, but she refused the last, although we were willing to pay for it,” they wrote. “She was a cross woman.”
Three hundred and twenty-seven years later, the same flinty pioneer spirit can still be found on the island. And while snipe and woodhens are not so common, there are still plenty of geese, and wild turkeys, too.
Google Map of Staten Island