The roads that reach their logical absurd conclusions along the Arthur Kill are a bit problematic for people like me who want to see a clear end. They are often a bit conflicted about what to do at the end of it all: continue all the way into the water, or just meander off into the bushes or maybe, as I have often found, continue rolling ever onward beyond locked gates. That was the case with River Road, a street I would love to follow to the water, as it ends near the Prall’s River, a mile long strait in the Arthur Kill separating the bird sanctuary Prall’s Island from Staten Island. On a map, River Road continues on past the railroad track for quite a ways, coming dangerously close to the dismal black waters of Prall’s River, but in reality, the publicly accessible part of it ends at a gate just beyond the tracks.
The part of River Road that is accessible to the public ends just beyond this railroad crossing.
Still, it is a picturesque ride down River Road (named for the extremely obscure Prall’s River?). That is, if you enjoy riding under droopy power lines just a few feet overhead and crossing marshy creeks that, which their polluted waters, seem to take the name “kill” a little too literally. I did manage to get a glimpse of the northern edge of the Prall’s River, though. Note that this area is not part of Fresh Kills Park and as far as I know, is not protected from development.
In the foreground is a marshy stream, part of the Fresh Kills water system and in the far distance in a bit of the Prall’s River, with the mysterious Prall’s Island just beyond.
There are places along the Kills separating Staten Island from New Jersey where industrial sites come right up to the water. They are certainly not pretty places, but they do keep up the traditional economic activity that animates this area. Then there are other places where the lush green vegetation of these low flung marshlands have reclaimed land, or have remained fairly natural through all these years of development, at Fresh Kills and in green patches elsewhere. These areas show the great potential for a rebirth of this natural estuary as parkland and they remind us how Staten Island’s geographical isolation in New York (as opposed to the centrality of the New Jersey areas on the opposite shore) has spared us from a more extremely industrial fate. And then there are the maritime dumps – places where old boats, industrial equipment, machinery and plain old trash have accumulated washed up, driven over and trucked in, to create an insult to the concept of shoreline. Here at the far end of South Avenue is just such a spot, a boat graveyard and trash heap that despoils the waters of the Arthur Kill just across from the southern tip of the mysterious green wilderness of Pralls Island. This is a fragile ecosystem that needs far more care, exemplified by the bird sanctuary on Pralls Island, a place where egrets and herons thrive. It was seriously harmed by an oil spill in 1990 when 700 birds died. Hopefully the opening of the Fresh Kills shoreline as parkland during the next few years will spur interest in this shore and will lead to a clean up of these sites.
Following Richmond Terrace from its beginnings at the ferry terminal in St. George, all the way west along the North Shore to its logical, though somewhat absurd, conclusion gives us our first image in the category of Staten Island Ad Absurdum.
Richmond Terrace ad absurdum
It ends at a locked chain link fence. Actually, it goes on beyond the chain link fence, into the container port area that leads, after just a thousand feet, to the waters of the Kill Van Kull. The long, cantilever bridge in the distance is the Goethals Bridge, linking Staten Island and New Jersey. In front of it is a smaller truss span (slightly darker in color). This is the Arthur Kill Lift Bridge, a single track rail bridge which is used to transport container freight from the container terminal to New Jersey. It works by lowering the truss span to meet the roadway in order to allow trains to pass. Afterwards, the span is lifted back up into this normal position, high enough to allow shipping to pass underneath.
This area is called Howland Hook. At this spot the Proctor & Gamble company built a very large manufacturing complex in 1907, where the very popular Ivory Soap was made – thus, the name of the adjoining community, called Port Ivory. The factory complex was closed and torn down in 1991 and the New York Container Terminal now takes its place.