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JULY 07 - JULY 15, 2015

Poor Planning or Vandalism at Root of Destruction of Wallenda Monument at State Park?

By James Hufnagel & Frank Parlato

JULY 7, 2015

July, 2014: Nik Wallenda admires lasting tribute to his amazing Niagara Falls high-wire feat, which, as it turned out, didn't last very long at all.
The pulverized monument as we snapped a picture of it the morning after.
State Parks encouraged tourists to pose on a section of steel cable mounted on top of the monument. As part of their story, State Parks now expresses a new-found concern that "harsh winters" may have "jeopardized" the integrity of the bolts anchoring the cable to the boulder.

On Tuesday, July 30 at 10:09 pm we received the following disturbing text message (edited for clarity):

"Within the past 15 minutes of 9:30 pm, the Nick Wallenda monument was destroyed on Goat Island. Plaque gone and boulder shattered in pieces... Too dark for picture... Parks Police on scene. No clue what happened. My anonymous tip for you."

A few minutes later, the same individual sent a second text:

"I walked by to go to Three Sisters and then about 15-20 (minutes later) on my return walk to the Horseshoe Falls, it was a disaster. There were Parks Police and several Parks workers. I have no clue what happened."

"When I walked by, the workers had the expression on their faces of something that went terribly wrong..."

"One cop said ‘oh, shit!’"

The Wallenda monument had consisted of a boulder from the Niagara River Gorge, which was affixed to a commemorative plaque, as well as a section of the actual wire Wallenda traversed during his historic walk across the Niagara Falls gorge.

The Reporter visited the scene the next morning and found the monument in ruins and the plaque missing.

We questioned two State Parks workers who were trimming the grass in the immediate vicinity, one of whom nervously responded, "Oh, they're moving it to a new location (in the park)."

Which made the Reporter curious.

Why would State Parks workers demolish a memorial to the world-famous Wallenda walk under cover of darkness, and apparently the night before, with State Parks police officers supervising?

State Parks Spokeswoman Angela P. Berti told the Niagara Gazette that the monument “was not vandalized but rather is situated in the construction area so it was advised that it be moved in order to protect it from damage during construction,"

Terrapin point, where the monument was located, is about to undergo a construction job which includes landscaping, rails, pavers and lighting for $3.83 million.

This, too, made us curious.

If the job is like others done recently in the park, the bulk of the money will be going into purchasing pavers that the Albany-based parks have directed to be purchased at a particular quarry at a price far more expensive than what similar or better stone could be bought for elsewhere.

This newspaper has previously reported that contractors were, by the nature of the RFP, essentially directed to buy granite from Champlain Stone, an Albany area company with quarries in the Adirondacks.

The actual granite requirement was mandated by the LA Group of Albany, a consultant/landscape architect for State Parks.

We also reported that the team of Albany-based State park officials overseeing the work at Niagara Falls State Parks was headed by State Parks employee Stephen McCorkell and from the private sector, his wife, Lisa L. Tonneson-McCorkell, RLA, who is an executive of the LA Group, whose company designed the granite-friendly specifications.

Champlain Stone charged state parks contractors around $60 per square foot, far above the normal market price for pavers at $20 per square foot.

We found it strange that the Wallenda monument had to removed/destroyed just in time for what is likely to be another expensive pavers' job.

Berti explained to the Niagara Gazette that that the monument – which actually was for the most part a boulder from the river gorge - developed structural weaknesses over the harsh winter and that would have jeopardized the plaque and section of Wallenda's walking cable if it were moved intact.

“The plaque and artifact have been removed and brought to an offsite location, while the monument is cleaved by an undisclosed restorative contractor,” The Gazette reported, based on Berti’s comments.

Berti said the monument will be replaced in approximately the same location once construction ends after the multi-millions of dollars in pavers and etc. is installed at Terrapin Point.

Still it's curious.

The April, 2012 release of the Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements Plan preceded the July, 2014 dedication of the memorial to Wallenda's walk by over two years.

But in July, 2015, State Parks is telling us the memorial had to be destroyed to make way for construction that had been planned two years previous to the installation of the memorial.

Now an entirely new memorial is to be created.

We called the Niagara Falls State Park visitor's line requesting comment. The phone rang for 13 minutes before we were transferred to Mary Kay Dugan, who administers the Discovery Pass program which, for a flat, discounted rate, affords access to Niagara Falls State Park attractions including Cave of the Winds, Maid of the Mist, the Niagara Scenic Trolley, the Aquarium and the Niagara Adventure Center, thereby helping to ensure that the eight million tourists who visit Niagara Falls every year spend most of their money in the park instead of the City of Niagara Falls.

When asked what had happened to the Wallenda Monument, Ms. Dugan replied that it was being "fixed". However, when asked what was wrong with it in the first place such that it needed to be "fixed", she couldn't say. An offer from Ms. Dugan to call back after finding out more information didn't materialize.

Either an act of criminal mischief, disrespecting the legacy of the Wallenda walk and costing taxpayers a small fortune, or poor planning by New York State Parks in siting the monument in an area slated for construction, also costing taxpayers a small fortune, took place in the Niagara Falls State Park last week.

We may never know which is the case, at least until the valuable and historic plaque resurfaces, either in the park or on Ebay.

And, when the monument returns, we imagine, it may either be with the original boulder or, perhaps better still, on Champlain Stone granite, costing for a solid piece large enough for such a monument, a handsome state parks style price of perhaps $100,000.

Lastly, we will admit to being mildly puzzled by the concept that a river gorge boulder that most likely survived the Wisconsin glacial retreat some 20,000 years ago would have had trouble staying intact because of a harsh winter.






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Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
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