These 9,155 acres along the route of the Atlantic Flyaway lay within the bounds of New York City and comprise one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the Northeastern United States where more than 330 bird species (nearly half of all the species in the Northeast) have been sighted. Both natural and artificial habitats, including salt marsh, upland field and woods, fresh and brackish water ponds, the bay and intertidal marshes play host to native reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, over 60 species of butterflies, and one of the largest populations of horseshoe crabs. In 1972 it was incorporated into the Staten Island Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area, and at the time became the only nature refuge managed by the National Park Service.
The site was established as a Wildlife Refuge in 1951 under the New York City Department of Parks after Parks Commissioner Robert Moses installed two freshwater ponds on Rulers Bar Hassock: 117-acre East Pond and 45-acre West Pond, which still characterize the site today. Herbert Johnson, the then-resident superintendent diligently preserved and restored nesting grounds and is credited with transplanting more than 1.5 million individual clumps of beach grass to newly-dredged land.
John F. Kennedy Airport lies just a half-mile from the northeastern-most point of Rulers Bar Hassock, which is bisected north to south by Cross Bay Boulevard. The park offers myriad visitor opportunities, including tours, hiking, and birding activities, while keeping them separated from delicate habitats via a series of gravel trails circling West and East ponds, as well as North and South gardens, which lay between the two ponds and just west of Big John’s pond, a much smaller pond that features duck blinds for birdwatching. In 2007 a 1960s-era maintenance facility was adaptively reused to create a new visitor contact center.