Nathan Kensinger’s Camera Obscura column at Curbed is back this week with a look at the Flushing River in Queens, and a hands-on lesson in nature’s persistence, even in the face of decades of human development and destruction.

Kensinger deems it “one of the most tortured waterways in New York City,” and as he follows the river’s altered four-mile path through Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and into Flushing Bay, it’s easy to see why.

Forced along an artificial route, the river emerges from underneath an MTA train yard, transforms into man-made Willow Lake and Meadow Lake, squeezes into narrow canals underneath a maze of highway overpasses, fills the Pool of Industry and the Fountain of the Planets, and passes through an underground pipe into the Pitch ‘N Putt pond. 

Workers have hand planted 90,000 native marsh grasses along the river’s banks. Photo credit: Nathan Kensinger.

The banks of the waterway are lined with storage facilities, auto repair shops, train tracks and bulkheads; its body is criss-crossed by bridges, highways, and overpasses. Because many of the natural marshlands have been destroyed, the river floods often, even with the slightest rainfall. And as if these indignities weren’t enough,

“the area’s waters receive approximately 10 truckloads of human feces a year from sewer overflows,” according to the Times Ledger.

An unused cove between a U-Haul truck depot and a concrete plant. Photo credit: “Nathan Kensinger.

But Kensinger catches glimmers of hope beneath the sludge and muck, too. Fish and turtles that survive despite the pollution, Parks Department efforts to restore marsh grasses and wetlands, and

The Willow Lake Preserve, which recently reopened. In 2011, the Parks Department planted over 13,000 trees, 5,000 shrubs, and 66,000 herbaceous plants here, according to a sign posted onsite.

See more at Curbed: Queens’ ‘Forgotten River’ Looks Ahead to Cleanup and Change