At one point in history, Coney Island was an actual island, separated from the rest of Brooklyn by Coney Island Creek.

That changed in the 50s and 60s, when the waterway was filled with debris from the construction of the Verrazano Bridge and stopped up by the Shore Parkway. Today, Coney Island Creek dead-ends mid-peninsula at Shell Road, but the creek is anything but lifeless.

In his November Camera Obscura column over at Curbed, Nathan Kensinger explored this unique waterway, which has evolved over the years from a raw-sewage pit known to locals as Stink Creek and Perfume Bay into “one of the most beautiful spots in New York,” thanks to a range of recovery and restoration efforts.

Swans in Coney Island Creek. Photo credit: Nathan Kensinger.

Like any body of water in the New York area, Coney Island Creek is decidedly mixed-use: Kensinger describes a waterway that is simultaneously used for recreation, sustenance, religious ceremony, and, increasingly, shelter for the homeless.

“Educational, spiritual, environmental, cultural—there’s a lot going on there,” said Charles Denson, the director of the Coney Island History Project.

Baptisms in the shadow of the Verrazano. Photo credit: Nathan Kensinger.

But the future of Coney Island Creek is now in limbo. During Hurricane Sandy, the creek was the main source of inundation into surrounding neighborhoods; to reduce damage from future storms, the City has proposed creating a tidal barrier and wetlands at the mouth of the creek.

And, as always, the specter of development looms. Kensinger writes:

At the end of the creek, where public waterfront access is severely limited, several new construction projects are being planned on large swaths of open land along the shoreline. These include a storage warehouse that is replacing the former headquarters of the Brooklyn Union Gas Company, and recently announced plans to sell the development rights for a 17-acre remediated National Grid brownfield

The ship graveyard in Coney Island Creek. Photo credit: Nathan Kensinger

Read more at Curbed: Coney Island’s Untamed Creek, Caught Between Past & Future.