Protecting Pouch Camp in Staten Island

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national organization geared toward new land preservation techniques, has announced a plan to safeguard Pouch Camp through two phases of conservation easement. The camp, a 130-acre tract of woods, ponds, and fields, is an unblemished but unprotected gem in Staten Island's 2,800-acre Greenbelt. The camp has been under threat of development for the past several years, as its owner, the Greater New York Councils of the Boy Scouts of America (GNYC), has struggled financially.

Although TPL has just made public the plan, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, a group of Staten Island residents, remains concerned whether both phases of conservation will indeed come to pass. While TPL has an excellent record for preserving open space, procuring funds for both phases is not guaranteed. Tremendous public and private support will be needed. The TPL plan would begin by preserving 43 acres of the tract by July 2012, comprising the most used portion of the Scouts' camp. By 2013, and contingent upon funding, an additional 51 acres would be purchased outright from GNYC for permanent conservation.

Because Pouch Camp was added to the New York State Open Space Conservation Plan in 1992, it is hoped that State and City agencies will help make both phases of the preservation plan a reality. New York State and the Department of Environmental Conservation are considered likely purchasers of the phase one parcel. This acreage carries a price tag of $5 million, but Protectors believes a partial undisclosed amount of this funding is available. When preserved, both the Boy Scouts and the public will be able to use the camp cabins and facilities.

The phase two parcel carries a price tag of $4.5 million. None of these funds and no prospective buyers are currently known for this land, which consists of interior woodlands and wetlands, and is the most untouched portion of all of Pouch Camp. Protectors feel that the most likely buyer for the tract is New York City, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg must be encouraged to make this a priority. The opportunity to preserve 51 acres of relatively untouched woods and wetlands within the boundaries of New York City will not come again. Please write to the Mayor and other elected officials showing your support for purchasing this piece of the camp.

The GNYC will retain the remaining 40 acres of Pouch Camp, which contains what is referred to as the Camp-o-ree field. Developers consider this parcel the most desirable. If funding falls through for preservation of either or both of the other parcels, it is still entirely possible that GNYC will or may need to sell this acreage for development. These 40 acres provide excellent edge habitat, complementing the wooded areas of the camp and providing forage for a different set of birds and other animals.

Pouch Camp supports wonderfully diverse flora and fauna. The Greenbelt in general, and Pouch Camp in particular, are absolutely vital to the Atlantic Migratory Flyway. The spring migration at Pouch Camp may yield such bird species as Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, kinglets, Ovenbirds and numerous warblers, among others. The camp's freshwater ponds support several species of amphibians, such as spring peepers, Fowler's toad, the northern redback salamander, and the red-spotted newt. Amphibians in less protected circumstances are facing dire threats from development and water pollution, throughout North America. One hundred of North America's 760 species of butterflies can be found in Staten Island; surely many of them find refuge at Pouch Camp.

In addition to its own wonderful resources, Pouch Camp strengthens the link between other sections of the Greenbelt such as the grounds of Sea View Hospital, Richmond Country Club, and High Rock Park. Because Pouch Camp has been under private ownership, used for scouting and related activities throughout the year, the land sees relatively light usage in comparison to other portions of the Greenbelt. As a result, Pouch Camp has acted like a "core" to the overall Greenbelt, providing a true refuge for nature away from more heavily utilized areas.

Scouting has a very long tradition in New York City, on Staten Island, and at Pouch Camp. The Scouts purchased the majority of the camp acreage in early 1949. The lodge at Pouch Camp is named for Irving Berlin, a famous New Yorker and great supporter of the Scouts. Tens of thousands of New York City children, both boys and girls, have experienced a little bit of the wild at Pouch Camp. We must ensure that the plan to preserve the camp is successfully carried out, so this vital resource endures for generations of human and non-human New Yorkers to come.

*All photographs on this page are courtesy of D. Reilly, Greenbelt Conservancy

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