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Niagara Falls high-wire act: Nik Wallenda sets the date

May 02, 2012|By Tina Susman
  • High-wire performer Nik Wallenda stands at Niagara Falls, where he announced a June 15 date for his long-planned high-wire walk over the Falls.
High-wire performer Nik Wallenda stands at Niagara Falls, where he announced… (David Duprey / Associated…)

NEW YORK -- High-wire artist Nik Wallenda finally made it official Wednesday: His controversial walk over Niagara Falls will take place June 15, nearly a year after New York state lawmakers passed legislation to permit the performance as a way of injecting tourist dollars into the region's moribund economy.

Wallenda made his announcement at a news conference -- where else? -- on the edge of Niagara Falls, which straddles the United States and Canada. Because the proposal needed approval of officials on both sides of the border, it seemed at times in danger of collapse. The path was cleared in February when Canadian parks officials, who initially had derided the performance as an insult to the falls' natural splendor, caved in under a relentless lobbying effort by Wallenda.

"At times I feel like I might wake up and it's all been a dream," said Wallenda, calling the event "the walk of my lifetime."

"I've done walks longer. I've done walks higher. I've done walks in the rain that were longer and higher. But none of them will compare to this," he said, in full view of the 170-foot-high Horseshoe Falls portion of Niagara that he plans to traverse. Horseshoe is 2,200 feet wide and is the largest and most spectacular of the three cataracts that comprise Niagara Falls.

Wallenda, 33, is a member of the famed Flying Wallendas, a family of circus performers and high-wire artists that was led by Wallenda's great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, until he fell to his death in 1978 during a high-wire walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was 73. Nik Wallenda blamed the accident on several factors, including the elder Wallenda's age, physical condition and equipment problems.

He told reporters he had learned, from his great-grandfather's death and from experience on the high-wire, that each performance has to be approached with the same degree of preparation and gravity. "I can't ever get that attitude of, 'Well, you know, this one is no big deal, it's fine.' Every single one is serious. Every single one is dangerous," he said.

Wallenda proposed the walk to New York lawmakers last year, in hopes of making it part of a Discovery TV show featuring his exploits. Before the walk could take place, though, the state had to pass legislation lifting a ban on stunts at the falls. Lawmakers did so in June, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law in September.

Some officials in Niagara Falls, N.Y., a one-time industrial boomtown, initially worried that Wallenda's act would encourage other people to perform stunts at the falls, but the legislation is for a one-time only lifting of the stunt ban and applies only to Wallenda.

According to a history of stunts on the Niagara Falls, Ontario, tourism website, at least nine people have walked or attempted to walk across different sections of the falls since 1859. Wallenda's walk is scheduled for 7 p.m.; it will be the first attempt since James Hardy walked across the falls in 1896.

Many people have gone over the falls in barrels and other contraptions. A California man died in 1995 after attempting the journey on a Jet Ski. Others have died in accidental falls at Niagara.

Wallenda, meanwhile, will get some practice for his performance next week when he takes his act over the waters of Baltimore's Inner Harbor on May 9. Wallenda said he also has a permit to walk across the Grand Canyon.

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tina.susman@latimes.com 

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