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It was a very good year The year 1885 was a pivotal year in the life of Niagara Falls, NY, a 16-square-mile city about 25 miles north of Buffalo and on the border between Canada and the U.S. If it weren't for what happened that year, we might not have been able to view the Falls from the U.S. sideā€”at least not without having to pay dearly for the privilege.

Already, by that time, the area around the Falls was being built up with factories, mills, warehouses, taverns, hotels, and other commercial structures. As well, these business people and property owners were blocking access by putting up high fences and other barriers and charging people to see the Falls. And that might have led to the slow death of the town rather than the healthy 55,000-population resort destination it is today.

 

So, what exactly did happen in 1885? Bowing to pressure from the 'Free Niagara' lobby, led by the famous landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York City's Central Park, the New York State legislature passed a law creating the 200-acre Niagara Reservation State Park, the first-ever attempt to use public money to preserve natural beauty. The result is what we have today, a zone around the Falls and rapids that is off-limits to commercial development and free to the public, a zone filled with landscaped gardens, parks and woodlands, hiking and biking trails and places for a quiet family picnic.

Cascade and they will come Thanks to these efforts, today's Niagara Falls, incorporated in 1892, is a bustling place with a thriving tourism industry that, with its sister city on the Canadian side, annually attracts between 14 and 18 million people and brings in something like USD1 billion a year in revenue for the region. The proximity of the Falls to the metropolitan areas of New York and Toronto put it within easy reach of more than 100 million people.

At the same time, the cheap electrical power generated by harnessing the Niagara River and Falls attracted numerous industries to the area during the early part of the 20th century. Some of these industries, such as Occidental Chemical, EI Dupont, Nabisco, US Vanadium, and Goodyear, remain, providing work for those in the population who aren't connected to the hospitality and tourism trade. Many industries, however, either shut down in the last 30 years or moved to the suburbs or surrounding small towns. After a prolonged economic downturn, the city has been revitalizing its downtown area, thus making it more attractive and viable for both residents and businesses.

But there is no doubt in anyone's mind what the prime pump for the economy is: without the Falls, this city would be simply one more border crossing fallen on hard times due to the collapse of heavy industry and shipping. The Falls form a cascade in more ways than one, including a trickle-down effect for the economy.

High rise to low-slung It is the Falls that supports the 3,000 hotel/motel/bed & breakfast rooms in the region. They allow luxury high rises such as Comfort Inn The Pointe and Holiday Inn at the Falls, low-slung motels such as the 3 Star, and classic Victorian B&Bs such as Rainbow House Bed & Breakfast to fill with guests anxious for a glimpse of the famous cataracts.

It is the Falls that bring 50,000 honeymooners a year (drawn, some say, by the negative ions released by the falling water and believed to be strong aphrodisiacs). And it is thanks to the Falls that attractions such as Cave of the Winds, Maid of the Mist boat ride, and Schoellkopf Geological Museum exist. Not to mention the dozens of tour companies coming from all over North America to deposit tourists to the spot where the 'Thunder of Waters' takes place.

Around Niagara Falls proper lie a series of historic towns and villages including: Lewiston, home of the Outdoor Fine Arts Festival and Lewiston Museum, Lockport, with its Erie Canal heritage and Underground Boat Ride, and Youngstown, with Old Fort Niagara where the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario.

Geologic shift makes good Niagara Falls has its own international airport, featuring the fourth longest main runway in New York State, as well as the nearby Niagara Aerospace Museum, with displays of rare planes and helicopters. It has a vast, 580-acre public park with an 18-hole golf course, and a massive downtown shopping mall-cum-music plaza right next to the Convention Center with 152,000 square feet of meeting, exhibit and banquet space.

All made possible thanks to a quirky geologic shift 12,000 years ago that sent the Niagara River plunging down the edge of the escarpment.

The city of Niagara Falls, NY, is eternally grateful and shows that gratitude by making sure each and every one of the millions of visitors gets a free and unobstructed look at that Seventh Natural Wonder of the World.

 

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