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After Nearly 50 Years, Niagara Falls Might Soon Run Dry Again

Repairing a set of 115-year-old bridges may require shutting off the rush of water that usually flows over the falls

(Sergey Orlov/First Light/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Niagara Falls is one of the world’s most iconic natural wonders, and soon, tourists may get a once-in-a-lifetime view the landscape without the water.

The New York State Parks Department has proposed a plan to repair a pair of 115-year-old bridges that allow visitors to cross the roaring river to a small island above the falls. But after more than a century of letting pedestrians and park vehicles cross the roaring river, the stone arch bridges are decrepit and dangerous, Nancy Fischer reports for the Buffalo News. Now, parks officials say that the best way to replace them is to shut off the American side of the famous falls.

The bridges were built between 1900 and 1901, and in the years since the raging waters have taken their toll. The bridges were closed in 2004 after one of their bases collapsed and temporary truss bridges were installed, Fischer Reports. But officials say the metal bridges are "aesthetically unappealing" and restrict views of the rapids.

The state is proposing three alternative plans to replace the historic bridges, two of which require shutting down the American side of the falls for months while crews put the new bridges in place, WKBW News reports. If the American Falls are shut down to build the new bridges, the construction process could take five to seven months, Ben Axelson reports for Syracuse.com

The falls were shut down once before, as part of a study in 1969. At the time, the Army Corps of Engineers diverted the water from the American Falls to Canada’s nearby Horseshoe Falls in order to analyze erosion of the fall’s rocks. 

At the time, construction crews discovered curious artifacts in the dry falls, including two human skeletons and millions of coins that had been flung into the falls over the years. While the rare occasion became a tourist attraction in and of itself, not everyone was pleased with the sight, Todd Leopold reports for CNN.

"I remember being a little disappointed because the scene was just a desolate landscape of rock, debris, tree limbs and construction equipment," Robert Borgatti, who lived in Niagara Falls, New York at the time, tells Fischer.

Even so, many are excited to see the bare rock beneath the sheets of falling water. And officials believe that at least initially, dewatering Niagara could boost tourism numbers, according to WRGZ.com.  State officials are holding a public hearing this Wednesday evening to determine the fate of the falls.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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