Next year, Ontario's Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) hopes to offer customers a new vista from which to view Niagara Falls.
Four zip lines, carrying thousands of passengers, as they glide before the three waterfalls known as Niagara Falls, are planned to be up and running in the spring of 2016.
The planned zip line attraction, at an estimated $50 per ride, will embark from the Grand View Market in Queen Victoria Park and, while making a high speed descent, carry harnessed passengers across the face of the American and Bridal Veil Falls, landing at the base of the former Ontario Power Company’s generating station in the Niagara Gorge facing the Horseshoe Falls - some 2200 feet from the embarkation point.
A second attraction, an aerial adventure course, where customers will move from tree to tree using log ladders, rope swings, scrambling walls, hanging nets, spinning logs, wobbly bridges, tightropes, monkey bars and zip lines rising above the forest canopy is also planned above the Niagara Whirlpool at Thompson Point.
While most details of the attractions have not been made transparent to the public, what is known is that, if final approval is granted by the Province of Ontario, it will be designed, built and operated by a partnership consisting of WildPlay Ltd., of British Columbia, a developer of zip line/aerial adventure parks in a handful of arboreal settings in Canada, and a startup company called Niagara Adventure Excursions Inc., founded in 2013, whose corporate officers have not been publicly identified and are not listed on the company website or on the LinkedIn profile the company posted online.
In late May, the NPC announced they received approval from the Province of Ontario to enter into an agreement with Niagara Adventure Excursions to develop and operate the zip line attractions.
However, the NPC acknowledged that additional studies are required before a final operating agreement can be signed and construction can begin.
To date the NPC has downplayed any potential adverse visual impacts the zip lines and their riders may have on the views of millions of visitors to Niagara Falls who are drawn here because of the visual resources of the area.
Instead the NPC focuses on the views zip line riders will enjoy.
"The new zip line attraction at Grand View Marketplace and aerial adventure course at Thompson Point will provide visitors with a breathtaking, authentic Niagara Falls and Niagara Parks experience,” said NPC chair Janice Thomson.
“These two new attractions are in keeping with Niagara Parks other natural attractions and provide another unique way to interpret the falls, the Niagara Gorge and all the lands along the Niagara Parkway, without impacting views or access enjoyed by other visitors to the falls.”
Thompson has not released any studies to back up her claims about the impact on views enjoyed by other visitors.
Whether zip line riders will look like tiny ants scurrying down the gorge from one location and from another appear as an obnoxious distraction, usurping the pensive contemplation of nature once available there, or, from all vista points - as Thompson suggests - riders will glide by unobtrusively, cannot be asserted anecdotally.
Typically the standard required prior to development in aesthetically sensitive and world heritage settings (and there may be no world heritage setting superior to Niagara Falls) is that a series of computer-generated photo simulations where all significant public viewpoints within a radius of the proposed zip lines are presented and analyzed.
Thompson claims to know that the zip lines, with its sometimes screaming passengers in rows of four, side by side, speeding down the gorge, seated in harness, in the "Superman" position or upside down, right below the railings at Victoria Park will create no visual impact there.
But she has not commented on whether the zip lines will impact the view from the New York State Park.
Visitors to Prospect Point, Hennepin Point, the Observation Tower, Maid of the Mist, Crows Nest, Luna Island, Cave of the Winds, and Terrapin Point will see an amusement ride descending into the gorge, a moving object carrying its objects at 35 plus miles per hour - between 300 to 1000 feet away.
This may enhance or distract the New York State Park viewer who has not come to ride a zip line but to witness Niagara Falls' natural grandeur.
On the other hand, the zip lines may lure tourists from the New York side and is its own advertisement, and will, as one of the men who stands to profit from the development of the attraction, Wildplay CEO, Tom Benson says, “enhance access to the local natural beauty of Niagara Parks, for a wide range of our guests.”
The question is, while enhancing the natural beauty for some, will it detract from the many?
Truly the citing of a zip line attraction before the millions of visitors at Niagara Falls is unique.
While zip lines are trending, they are commonly located in quiet and remote places of nature, where the zip line itself creates the access to the views of forest canopy and pristine scenes of nature.
The jungles of Costa Rica, Florida, Puerto Vallarta, and Nicaragua are popular destinations for zip line enthusiasts.
No zip line has been developed to date that will actually become a part of a world famous heritage view.
Wildplay owner Benson said the project would create a new class of visitors to Niagara Falls who will seek it as destination for eco-adventure.
"Niagara Falls is an incredible location but it's lacking a good eco-tourism presence right now," he said. "This will be phenomenal."
Visual impact is assessed in terms of the anticipated change in visual resources, including whether there would be a change in character or quality of the view with respect to significant and aesthetic resources.
The visual resources of Niagara Falls is its greatest asset.
The Niagara Falls Reporter will continue to investigate and bring before the public a fair and candid analysis of not only the true visual impact but also - as we did once before - on the matter of a boat tour concession secretly handed out at discount rates by the NPC to the Glynn family of Lewiston New York - what the terms are for the zip lines, who stands to profit, and will this be another NPC sweetheart deal for unnamed developers.