Wednesday, November 24, 2010

To Stop the Raging Waters

Magnet # 401:  American Falls by Night Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Darlene

If you've ever witnessed the majesty of the American Falls at Niagara Falls in person, you'd have a hard time believing that anyone could ever stop its waters.  But that's just what happened back in 1969 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blocked the flow of the Falls from June to November.  They did so to study the rockfall, clear out any items blocking the Falls, and do their best to ensure that the American Falls would not die out in the future.  This had all stemmed from a newspaper article that sensationalized the possible death of the Falls in 1965.  Public outcry forced the local government to take the matter very seriously, creating a full-time board to determine how to prevent the Falls from drying out.  For one day in November of 1966, the Falls were blocked and a significant amount of tree trunks, rocks, and even a 10-ton pontoon boat were cleared out.  But that one stoppage was not enough, and less than three years later an even greater effort was made to dry out the Falls.  A giant cofferdam was erected from the mainland to Goat Island, which separates the American Falls from Horseshoe Falls, and nearly all water was diverted to Horseshoe Falls, which became even more impressive from the extra water power.  The stream of water at the American Falls was reduced to a trickle and when authorities made it to the river bed, they discovered the bodies of a man and woman they hadn't even realized were there.  Ironically, they later found the woman was wearing a gold wedding band with the words "forget me not" engraved inside.  It must have been quite a shock for visitors during that time to witness the nearly dry rocks at the American Falls, particularly when the engineers were walking around in them.  And the Falls became packed with curious onlookers, many of whom climbed in themselves.  In fact, at some times there were so many visitors grabbing rocks and wandering around that local police officers had a difficult task clearing them out.  Yet the engineers continued on, testing the flow of the waters with dye, installing a water spray system, and removing debris out of the riverbed and from the face of the Falls.  Their work came to an end tomorrow, November 25, when the dam was taken down and the waters began to cascade over the falls once again.  A small ceremony was held to mark the occasion.  And before December was over, the water flow had resumed to its usual course.  In June of 1973, voters were allowed to weigh in on what else, if anything, would be done at the American Falls.  The majority responded to just let nature take over and leave them alone.  And that's just what has happened, as the Falls have continued, uninterrupted, ever since.

Even though they're often overlooked in favor of Horseshoe Falls, which boasts a unique crescent shape and about 90% of the Niagara River water flow, the American Falls are still quite an impressive sight.  At well over a mile long across and a drop of up to 170 feet, these Falls are impressive enough on their own to overshadow many other waterfalls in the country.  And while the Horseshoe Falls can be obscured by heavy mists, that doesn't tend to be as much of a problem with these Falls.  It also has another nearby waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls, to add to its splendor.  But it's funny, just about the only time the American Falls has received more attention than its counterpart was when it was dammed up.  Few cared about the extra water coming over Horseshoe Falls, but nearly everyone was fascinated by the dry riverbed.  And back in 1860, a tradition was begun for a visit by the Prince of Wales that has allowed the Falls to be appreciated in a whole new manner - lighting them up at night.  For that first display, Bengal lights, which are used to call for help at sea, were brought in, but by 1879 electricity was being used.  The American Falls were the first to have a variety of colors on display in 1892.  And by 1925, permanent lighting had been installed.  I visited Niagara Falls with my family when I was growing up and was able to take in the nightly spectacle for myself.  We even had dinner at a restaurant and sat at the balcony to get a better view of the Falls.  I really had a great time watching the colors change.  And it's funny - while I remember seeing the American Falls all lit up in every shade imaginable at night, I don't recall seeing those at Horseshoe Falls by night.  If you've never seen this amazing place yourself, it's absolutely worth taking in, especially once the Sun has set.  It's good to know that if the American Falls, and perhaps even Horseshoe Falls, is ever threatened again, there are measures we can take to ensure their survival.  Considering just how incredible they are, it's worth doing all we can to keep them around for future generations.

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