Saturday, October 19, 2013

Staten Island Greenbelt

Spray by TheTurducken
Spray, a photo by TheTurducken on Flickr.
For two years, I've been thinking I should hike the Staten Island Greenbelt. The idea sounds seductive - over 30 miles of wooded trails right in New York City! Of course, SI is the hardest borough to get to from the other four, thanks to the ferry, which means I can get to places such as Breakneck Ridge in the same amount of time. When I finally decided to take the plunge today, it took me two hours from door to trailhead, and that was with once-in-a-lifetime luck - no wait at all for the ferry or for a bus on Staten Island.

I made the mistake of taking the bus as close as it got to LaTourette Golf Course, where my hike was to begin. Did you know there were places in New York City without sidewalks? The roadwalk from the bus stop to the course was short, but it was on a busy road with literally no shoulder and short sight distances. This was in no way safe, and if you ever decide to hike the Greenbelt, just get off at the Richmond Town stop. (Or drive. Or, don't go at all.)

Richmond Town, oddly, is basically like Old Williamsburg. With no people. And no maintenance. I passed it, and the lovely St. James Church, without becoming a vehicular fatality, to arrive at the golf course.

There's nothing like a golf course to give me class anxiety. Sure, I come from middle-class-with-upper-middle-aspirations stock, but it's the kind of middle class that ends up living on the Upper West Side, not the Upper East. Unfortunately, I had to wander the course a bit before finding the trailhead, which was not located where the book said it was. But I found it and escaped the polo shirts into the woods …

… only to discover that the actual trail had little resemblance to either the book or the official map. There was no point in even trying to follow it. With a smart phone and a signal, though, I couldn't get more than momentarily displaced, though. (What was the worst that could happen? I mean, I was already in Staten Island.)

The trail started off without anything to recommend it. Yes, there were trees. At one point I glimpsed a pond. I really wouldn't recommend the Belt south of Rockland Avenue unless you live in the neighborhood and just want to tack on the miles. North of the road crossing, though, it gets more interesting. For one thing, it is slightly more hilly. For another, there are water features. And I got lucky and saw two deer - although, if pressed, I might concede the possibility that deer do at times cross roads. Lake Ohrbach was actually rather nice, as were the ponds that followed.

I had no intention of returning to the start, as the book recommended, so when I reached St. Francis woods, I left the park to find a bus. This part of the trail pops out among a neighborhood of hideous McMansions with the occasional remaining brick ranch - a sidewalkless neighborhood. With fast-moving cars. It was about a mile to the bus stop, about a third of which was on road that really shouldn't be walked.

The Greenbelt really isn't worth visiting Staten Island for. If you happen to find yourself on the island, go for it - I'm sure it's a great resource for the locals who like the outdoors. But you can get to better hiking faster (albeit more expensively) in other directions from the city.

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