Niagara Falls Travel Guide
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Preservation

NIAGARA FALLS PRESERVATION

For the first two centuries after European settlement of the area, land on both sides of Niagara Falls was privately owned. Development and commercial ventures threatened the natural beauty of the area, and visitors sometimes had to pay entrepreneurs a fee to view the Falls through holes in a fence. In 1885 both American and Canadian authorities began to purchase the adjacent lands with a view toward preservation. In New York, artist Frederick Church and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted headed up the Free Niagara movement which persuaded New York state to begin to buy land from developers, under the charter of the Niagara Reservation State Park. In the same year, the Canadian province of Ontario established the Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Park for the same purpose. Both organizations have proven remarkably successful operations that have restricted development on both sides of the Falls and the Niagara River. On the Canadian side, the Niagara Parks Commission governs land usage along the entire course of the Niagara River, from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.

Until the modern era, the Falls were receding southward due to erosion from two to ten feet (0.6 to 3.0 meters) per year. This process was slowed initially by diversion of increasing amounts of flow from the Niagara River into hydroelectric plants in both the United States and Canada. On January 2, 1929 Canada and the United States reached an agreement on an action plan to preserve the Falls. In 1950, the two countries signed the Niagara River Water Diversion Treaty, which more specifically addressed the issue of water diversion.

In addition to the effects of diversion of water to the power stations, erosion control efforts have included underwater weirs to redirect the most damaging currents, and actual mechanical strengthening of the top of the Falls. The most dramatic such work was performed in 1969. In June of that year, the Niagara River was completely diverted away from the American Falls for several months through the building of a temporary rock and earth dam (clearly visible in the photo at right), effectively shutting off the American Falls.5 While the Horseshoe Falls absorbed the extra flow, the US Army Corps of Engineers studied the river bed and mechanically bolted faults which would otherwise have hastened the retreat of the American Falls. A plan to remove the huge mound of talus deposited in 1954 was abandoned due to cost, and in November 1969, the temporary dam was dynamited, restoring flow to the American Falls.

Even after this undertaking, Luna Island, the small piece of land between the main waterfall and the Bridal Veil, remained off limits to the public for years owing to fears that it was unstable and could collapse into the gorge at any time.

Recent construction of several tall buildings (hotels) on the Canadian side of the falls has caused the airflow over the falls to change direction. The result is the viewing areas on the Canadian side are now often obscured by a layer of mist/fog from the falls. It will be very difficult to fix the problem.

 

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