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Exploring the Nature Walk at the Polluted Newtown Creek

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Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed's series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. Every other week, Kensinger will explore one of the city's less-known corners, beginning with the new parks built during the Bloomberg administration. Up now, the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, future home of the Newtown Creek Armada.


[The Newtown Creek Nature Walk opened in 2007 and provides direct access to the polluted waters of the Newtown Creek. All photos by Nathan Kensinger.]

The Newtown Creek Nature Walk is one of the most daring and creative waterfront parks built in New York City during the last decade. Opened in 2007, the park is situated on the Brooklyn shores of the Newtown Creek, which was designated a Federal Superfund Site in 2010 and is one of the most polluted industrial waterways in the United States. The Nature Walk does not attempt to disguise its surroundings. It offers up picnic table views of the nearby scrap yard, sanitation building, and sewage treatment plant, embracing its industrial location while also presenting a sweeping overview of the Newtown Creek's history from the ice age to present day.

Visiting the Nature Walk is more like visiting a conceptual art installation, as opposed to spending a day at a park. Designed by artist George Trakas, the entire park is a sculpture, and every element has a story, from the garbage cans to the handrails. Unlike most waterfront parks in NYC, it also encourages and facilitates direct access to the water, with a grand staircase that ends underwater, and boat launches with multiple ladders leading down into the creek. Built by the Department of Environmental Protection and paid for by the city's Percent for Art program, the Newtown Creek Nature Walk is not part of the Parks Department. As a result, it feels entirely different than the typical waterfront promenades that are now being built throughout the city.

Visitors to the Newtown Creek Nature Walk enter through a boat-shaped 170 foot walkway called the "Vessel."

Portholes in the walls of the Vessel provide views into the neighboring Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, the largest sewage treatment plant in the city.

The Vessel's boatlike shape is purposefully aligned with the Empire State Building in nearby Manhattan.

The entrance walkway slopes down to edge of the Newtown Creek, and to a series of seven granite sculptures.

Each sculpture is carved with Native American place names. The blocks look out onto the entrance to Dutch Kills, a spur of the Newtown Creek.

The park's main feature is a massive 405 ton staircase that leads visitors down into the polluted waters of the Newtown Creek.

The staircase is carved with the scientific names of various animals that have lived in the area. Its handrails are modeled on water molecules.

A nearby sitting area features a 1,400 pound sculpture inspired by a shipping bollard.

The sculpture is engraved with a map of the original contours of the Newtown Creek and Bushwick Inlet.

Further into the park is an area populated by native plants and rocks that date back to the most recent ice age.

Each plant and rock is coupled with an explanatory text about its history.

Boat launches and ladders look out onto the iconic digester eggs of the wastewater treatment plant.

A picnic area provides views of a closed-down marine transfer station, where the Sanitation Department once dumped garbage into waiting barges.

The Nature Walk is currently only a quarter mile long, but will soon curve around the edge of the creek on a series of floating islands. Phase 2 & 3 are scheduled to begin in 2014.

?Nathan Kensinger
· Newtown Creek Nature Walk [NYC.gov]
· Official site: Nathan Kensinger Photography [kensinger.blogspot.com]
· Nathan Kensinger archive [Curbed]
· Newtown Creek coverage [Curbed]

Newtown Creek Nature Walk, Brooklyn, NY, 11222