Best parks: Egbertville

Haven't heard of it? Now you have no excuse. Get thee to Staten Island's Greenbelt and get lost for a day.

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Deep in the heart of Staten Island—the borough with the city’s wildest expanse—lies our winner: the leafy neighborhood of Egbertville, which stands at the center of the Greenbelt.

The word belt is a bit of a misnomer, though: The 2,800-acre expanse is actually an X-shaped area, not a trail that circumnavigates the borough. Semantics aside, it has a lot to offer—its most dramatic features include High Rock Park, the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge, LaTourette Park and Willowbrook Park. Of the four major trails that snake through the area, the longest stretches eight miles.

This is no “graybelt,” like the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway, which sometimes traverses city streets. “There’s no skyline, no bus stop to remind you that you’re near civilization,” says Scott Sendrow, cofounder of photo blog Bridge and Tunnel Club, which features photographs of city parks. “The “I can’t believe I’m in New York City” experience is clichéd, but these trails are pretty untouched,” he adds. “My understanding is that in the 1950s and 1960s, the area had been mapped out for highways, but they never came to fruition, so what you have is Staten Island exactly as it was before all the development.”

Squeezed between High Rock Park and the LaTourette Park golf course, the tiny village of Egbertville evokes that spirit. It’s simply a handful of houses and a miniscule commercial strip at the intersection of Rockland Avenue and Richmond Road, with a ravine running through it and a skyline of trees. (It’s also the site of the Greenbelt’s headquarters.)

Elsewhere on the island, the transformation of Fresh Kills landfill into a 2,200-acre park will nearly double the Greenbelt over the next 30 years. “Being in the Greenbelt is like being in the country,” says Edie Stone, director of NYC’s GreenThumb program (who nominated her home ’hood of Red Hook), “but Fresh Kills will be a destination for people from all over the city, not just from Staten Island.” Her boss, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, is no doubt looking forward to that transformation, but nevertheless, he voted for Central Harlem. Until that area’s rebirth is complete, though, we’ll take the verdant stretch of Shaolin over the structured urban feel of Manhattan any day.

Egbertville is named for the Egbert family, who farmed the area in the 1700s.


RUNNER-UP

Morningside Park
Morningside Park

Photograph: Jeff Gurwin

Central Harlem
“The parks in historic Harlem are undergoing a renaissance. Morningside Park was recently designated a scenic landmark, St. Nicholas Park will host the relocated Hamilton Grange, Marcus Garvey Park’s amphitheater will be reconstructed, and Jackie Robinson’s band shell will also be renovated, with countless recreation opportunities available at the park and recreation center.”—Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe

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