Historic Niagara Falls State Park lies along and in the Niagara River. While called river the Niagara – taken from the Iroquois word Onguiaahra meaning strait – waterway is actually a strait running 39 miles connecting the last of the Great Lakes – Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
What is known as Niagara Falls is in reality three separate falls – the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls (named so because it resembles a bride’s veil), and the Horseshoe Falls which is also known as the Canadian Falls. Actually the Horseshoe Falls borders more American soil than Canadian soil. Besides providing a beautiful and majestic sight of nature Niagara Falls is a source of hydroelectric power for the area.
The Falls are always on and free for the viewing; they are even lit up at night with a rainbow of coloured lights. During the tourist season a fireworks display is presented each Friday, Sunday, and special holidays.
For visitors who wish to get a closer look at this natural wonder there is the Maid of the Mist boat ride and a journey down into the river gorge with the Cave of the Winds where visitors can even get as close as eight feet to the Bridal Veil Falls. Both are excellent ways to cool off on a hot summer day since even with the poncho provided, visitors may get a bit wet.
Luna Island lets visitors stand between the American and Bridal Veil Falls for a truly spectacular view.
What today is Niagara Falls has been thousands of years in the making. Even with only 50 percent of the water flowing over the Falls, the action of the fast moving water – approximately 30 knots when it runs over the brink – the land erodes a few inches each year; so even for returning visitors the view is never quite the same. When the Falls were first formed they were some seven miles north of their present location – the Niagara is one of the some three dozen bodies of water in the world that flows north.
The first white man believed to set eyes upon the great Falls of Niagara was French priest Father Louis Hennepin in 1678. Since then there have been hundreds of millions of people to visit the majestic Falls and the Niagara Falls State Park.
What is today the Niagara Falls State park was originally called the Niagara Reservation, but when New York state Governor David B. Hall signed the law creating the nation’s first state park on April 30, 1885; Frederick Law Olmstead was called on to design the park – Olmstead also designed Central Park in New York City, Delaware Park in Buffalo, and Highland Park in Rochester. Olmstead wanted to create a park that would preserve the green spaces along the water and would also allow the local flora and fauna to flourish. Today there are hundreds of species of birds, trees, and flowers that call the Niagara Falls State Park home.
One of the early visitors to the newly named park was Jerome Bonapart – brother of Napoleon – who brought his bride for a visit. It wasn’t long before Niagara Falls was known as the honeymoon capitol of the world. Over the years millions of couples have visited the area while on their honeymoon. The park has also become a popular spot for wedding photographs.
Niagara Falls State Park includes the mainland along the river, Green Island, Goat Island, Bird Island, Luna Island, the Three Sisters Islands, and the Falls themselves. Goat Island got it’s name when gentleman farmer John Steadman used the island to house his livestock in winter in order to protect them from predator animals. One particular winter the weather was very hard and Steadman could not get across to the island to tend his stock. Once the winter had finally eased and Steadman could again get across to the island all he found was one old stubborn goat that had survived.
The Three Sisters Islands are three small islands – connected by bridges – that are named for the three daughters of General Parkhurst Whitney – Asenath, Celinda Eliza, and Angeline. Visitors are encouraged to visit the islands during daylight hours as there is no power on the islands for lighting.
On the northern end of the Niagara Falls State Park is the Discovery Center where rock hounds can view a film, take a tour down the gorge via elevator, and learn all about the geology of the Niagara River Gorge. From the Discovery Center there is a nature trail that follows along the river until it reaches Lake Ontario and Fort Niagara.
Niagara Falls State Park is a natural park with the sights and sounds of nature at its most majestic that is not only a good place to visit but has something for everyone and has more to offer than a typical tourist trap. Visitors may picnic on the grounds, spend hours exploring the park, or just enjoy the majesty of the water as it falls some 180 to the river gorge below.
photos by Sherrill Fulghum
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