In Staten Island, hiking the wild path of Richmond Creek

Stretching over five miles from its furthest tributaries in the Staten Island Greenbelt to its mouth in Fresh Kills, Richmond Creek flows through many layers of hidden history. Its waters pass by toxic landfills and old mill remnants, a historic town museum, a manmade mountain of rubble, a vast Boy Scout camp, and an abandoned tuberculosis hospital.

Along its entire course, the creek is a fascinating blend of natural and engineered landscapes, simultaneously operating as a stormwater drainage system and a wildlife sanctuary for several rare aquatic species. Staten Island’s only population of northern two-lined salamander live along its banks, while its waters host New York City’s only population of blacknose dace and the first beavers to appear in the city in over 100 years.

Wandering through Richmond Creek’s teeming ecosystems today, it is surprising to consider that just 20 years ago, this was one of New York City’s most contaminated waterways, polluted by raw sewage from backed-up septic systems.

“Bacterially speaking, it was just horrific,” says Robert Brauman, the construction project manager for the Staten Island Bluebelt, which began working to improve the creek in the 1990s. “Parts of it were almost like an open sewer, and you could smell the urine.”

Although the scars from centuries of human interference are still readily apparent all along Richmond Creek, it has now been transformed into one of the most pristine waterways in New York City, thanks in part to the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) unique Bluebelt program, which brought a new sewage system to the area.

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