Habitat Restoration Project Begins at Crooke's Point at Great Kills Park

Updated 30 Jan: Opposition to the pilot program has been included.

Parks officials have launched a pilot program to rehabilitate part of a coastal habitat at Great Kills Park on Staten Island. The project involves clearing two acres of a peninsula in the park known as Crooke’s Point, to root out invasive plant species, and eventually clear the way for planting new trees and shrubs that are native to the region.

Dave Avrin, chief of resources at Gateway National Recreation Area which includes Great Kills Park said, invasive species – primarily vines including Japanese honeysuckle and Oriental Bittersweet — are “choking off” much of the area’s plant life, creating harmful effects on Crooke’s Point.

"Biodiversity of plants is decreased, and as a result, the animals and insects that depend on those plants, the biodiversity of those insects and animals is impacted,” he said.

Under the new pilot program, the National Parks Service is working with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation – a partnership Avrin said that will allow rehabilitation to move more swiftly.

Avrin notes that the peninsula is a natural and undeveloped area. “And it has vegetation that’s very attractive to, you know, to fisherman, it’s very attractive to birdwatchers, it’s a great habitat for migratory species that come through along the coast of Staten Island,” he said.

There are several ways non-native species may have arrived in the area. For example, Avrin said they may have been transported in early shipping materials, over a number of years. Or, he said, seeds may have blown over from neighboring gardens, or been transported there by animals.

Work to clear parts of the two acre swath of the 30 acre peninsula began last week, and over the next few months, that same area will be treated with herbicides. Avrin said the timeline for completion for the entire project is October of 2014.

But not everyone’s in favor of the project. Ellen Pratt, with the conservation group Protectors of Pine Woods, said there’s significant opposition to the way the restoration is being handled, and the potential impact of herbicides leaking into the harbor. She believes the invasive plant species can be managed by hand, and is concerned that the pilot project will actually destroy the natural resources in the area.

“We feel this is a terrible project,” she said. “It’s already destroyed two acres of cover and food for birds, especially resident and migrating birds.”

Pratt supports a plan to plant seeds or acorns, rather than trees and shrubs grown elsewhere, into the area. “A restoration specialist has recommended that you put seeds and acorns of trees and shrubs that are very drought-resistant into the ground, into the sand, and let them germinate and have a chance to grow on their own,” she said.

The 800 acre Great Kills Park is part of the region’s Gateway National Recreation Area, a national park that encompasses and protects parkland, wildlife sanctuaries and historical structures in parts of New York and New Jersey.