North Brother IslandNorth Brother Island is a Forever Wild Sanctuary

Have you heard of a “Forever Wild” nature preserve? It’s an initiative of New York City Parks, “to protect and preserve the most ecologically valuable lands within the five boroughs,” according to the department. New York City’s engineered public parks like Central Park and Prospect Park might get the most acclaim, but the city also has over fifty Forever Wild nature preserves covering 8,700 acres of forests, wetlands, and meadows providing habitat for wildlife like bald eagles and rare plants. There are Forever Wild preserves in all five boroughs (Staten Island leading with 24 of the 51), and some require some good map skills to locate them. Here is our guide to nature preserves across the five boroughs!

1. Pelham Bay Park Preserves

Pelham Bay Park Preserves

Pelham Bay Park in the northeast section of the Bronx is a lesser-known park, created by the NYC Parks Department and renovated extensively by Former Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who is responsible for the creation of Orchard Beach and other additions. It is the largest public park in the city at 2,772 acres, about three times the size of Central Park. The park was the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Pell’s Point, and Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan spiritual advisor, was killed by Native Americans the park’s Split Rock. The park is also home to three preserves on Forever Wild’s list: Hunter Island Marine Sanctuary, Thomas Pell Wildlife Refuge, and Pelham Bay Park Preserves.

The Hunter Island Marine Sanctuary is located north of Orchard Beach as well as a number of small islands like Cat Briar Island and the Twin Islands. The sanctuary is known for its glacial erratics, boulders deposited during the last Ice Age nearly 15,000 years ago. A rare intertidal marine ecosystem flourishes at the sanctuary. A local law was signed in 1967 to create sanctuaries like this one after New York City began landfill operations at nearby Tallapoosa Point.

The Thomas Pell Wildlife Refuge consists of a forest and salt marsh named for Thomas Pell, an English-born physician who bought the area known as Pelham in 1654 from the Siwanoy Native American tribe. His family is the second namesake of the Bartow-Pell Mansion in the northern part of the park. The refuge contains Goose Creek Marsh as well as the aforementioned Split Rock, and it is home to wildlife like raccoons, egrets, and even the occasional coyote.

The Pelham Bay Park Preserves links the Thomas Pell Wildlife Refuge and Hunter Island Marine Sanctuary. With 200 acres of salt marsh, the park has the largest area of tidal wetlands in NYC outside of Jamaica Bay. The preserves boast over 400 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects; notable animals include northern diamondback terrapins and the clapper rail.