Clove Lake Park
With valuable ecological assets, Clove Lakes Park has a rich natural history and a few remnants of the past. Chief among them are the park's lakes and ponds, outcroppings of serpentine rocks, and Staten Island's largest living thing, a three hundred year-old tulip tree.
Besides strolling down trails and paddling on its bodies of water to appreciate its beauty, visitors can also experience the park as a more modern recreation zone. Several baseball diamonds, a soccer field, basketball court, playgrounds, and football field dot the park's landscape. The Staten Island World War II Veteran's Memorial Ice Skating Rink is an outdoor rink located in what could be called the "active" part of the park, close to its other fields and courts.
Clove Lakes Park has outcroppings of Serpentine group rock at the crest of the hills. The spine of Staten Island is a broad ridge of serpentine, which was formed during the Ordovician period (435-500 million years ago) when heat and pressure altered rocks rich in magnesium and iron. Ash green in color, serpentine is named after the patterns in the rock that resemble snake skin. Its mineral composition includes fibrous chrysotile (known commercially as asbestos), talc, olivine (green lava grains) as well as ferromanganese, a mineral containing magnesium and iron.
Clove Lakes Park is home to many species of indigenous wildlife. Visitors can see fish such as Brown Bullhead, Bluegill, Pumpkinseed, Largemouth Bass, and Carp, birds, such as Red Tailed Hawk, Kingfisher, Cormorant, Red-Winged Blackbird, Canada Geese, and Mallard, as well as reptiles and amphibians, like the Common Snapping Turtle, Eastern Painted Turtle, Red Eared Slider, and occasionally even the Red Back Salamander. The park is also home to mammals, like Gray Squirrels, Muskrat, Eastern Cottontail and the Eastern Chipmunk.
Clove Lakes Park derives its name from the Dutch word “kloven,” meaning cleft. The particular cleft is the valley and brook betweenEmerson Hill and Grymes Hill. This valley was deepened by the glacier 20,000 years ago. The brook which ran through the valley originated in Clove Swamp and ran to the Kill Van Kull. The damming of this brook over the years created the different lakes and ponds in the area. The Staten Island Expressway, built in 1964, goes through the cleft to connect the roadway to major interchanges at the then newly built Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the East and the Goethals Bridge to the West. When first proposed the expressway was to be named The Clove Lakes Expressway.
Early use in pre-park times
In pre-colonial and colonial days, Native Americans used a path adjacent to the stream as a route to the Kill Van Kull. By 1683, Governor Thomas Dongan owned many acres in the northern section of Staten Island where he hunted bears. He built several dams across Clove Brook, and the resulting water pressure was used by local mills to grind grain and saw wood. After Dongan returned to England he left his property to his sons, one of whom continued to sell off land to pay for his heavy alcohol habit. A subsequent owner, Abraham Britton, built a dam and a grist mill at the east end of Britton’s Pond in 1825. The body of water created by the dam was called Clove Lake.
In 1863, Erastus Brooks, politician and newspaper publisher, established a large estate and residence in West Brighton at the corner of what is now Forest Avenue and Clove Road. He built a dam which created Brooks Pond. The Staten Island Water Company, one of the local companies supplying water in the 19th and early 20th centuries, bought the rights to use the water from this dam. The two other ponds created by different dams were Martling’s and Schoenian’s. Martling’s Pond was the site of an ice house in the mid-19th century; Schoenian’s Pond is no longer in existence.
Staten Islanders considered making this area a park as early as 1897, one year before the consolidation of New York City. By that time the grist mill had burned down, and the ice house had suffered numerous fires. The dams dividing the three lakes were unsafe and were washed out several times. Leading Islanders William T. Davis, Charles Leng, and Frederick Law Olmsted spoke out for the need to preserve this area’s natural beauty. In 1921 and 1923 the land around and including Crystal Lake and Brooks Dam was acquired as a city park. Major construction in Clove Lakes Park did not get underway until the early 1930s.
The northwest section of the park is home to Staten Island’s largest living thing, a tulip tree. One hundred and seven feet tall and at least three hundred years old, this tree, known as the "Clove Lake Colossus", survived the extensive logging and clearing which occurred when the settlers came. Tulip Trees are known for their straight trunks from which Native Americans carved canoes. Adjacent to the athletic fields is a one-story building that was built in the early 1930s to provide restrooms and other facilities. Constructed of native fieldstone, the “Field House” was designed by O.A. Madsen and renovated by Aymar Embury II. In 1989, the building was named “Stonehenge” for the mysterious megaliths in Wiltshire, England. The Staten Island War Memorial Skating Rink opened in the southeast part of the park on Thanksgiving Day in 1987.
It is also known for its cozy picnic accommodations and boating.