Daredevil seeks to tightrope walk Niagara Falls

Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda met with members of the Niagara Parks Commission on Thursday hoping to persuade them to grant him permission to go across Niagara Falls.
Nik Wallenda walks across a wire suspended in the air between two towers of the Conrad Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda hopes to tightrope walk across the Niagara Gorge in 2012. (Ricardo Arduengo/Associated Press)

Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda met with members of the Niagara Parks Commission on Thursday hoping to persuade them to grant him permission to go across the Niagara Gorge.

The stunt needs the endorsement of the Ontario commission, which so far has said it is not interested in Wallenda's proposed stunt.

"It absolutely does not fit the brand of the Niagara Parks, of the mandate we have to preserve and conserve and beautify the Falls," said Janice Thomson, the interim commission chair, said earlier.

The NPC said in a late afternoon news release that no decision was made — that it was "an introductory meeting to discuss a possible tightrope walk across the Niagara Gorge in 2012."

"No formal proposal was presented during the meeting, and Mr. Wallenda and his representative inquired about the process they would need to follow, to pursue this initiative in the future," the release said.

Nik Wallenda, 32, a seventh-generation member of the Great Wallendas, is running up against a new brand-consciousness at Niagara Falls. ((CBC))
Wallenda plans for a spring or summer of 2012 walk across a wire five centimetres in diameter and about 550 metres long anchored by weights on each shore. His own rescue helicopter and dive teams would stand by, and his father would coach him through an earpiece, he said. The walk would take about 45 minutes.

Wallenda, a seventh-generation member of the Great Wallendas, holds six Guinness World Records, including one set in 2008 for the longest distance and greatest height ever travelled by bicycle on a high wire.

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=930 size=small]The family began in the circus business more than 200 years ago, performing as clowns, jugglers and acrobats, then shifting their focus to tightrope in the 1920s. Wallendas have broken many records, but many have died or been seriously injured during performances.

Nik Wallenda wants to become the first person to walk across the falls in more than a century.

"It's fulfilling a dream," he told CBC News. "To bring that spotlight to this area — again, I don't think you can put a price on that, And that's my gift."

The falls are known for their daredevil history.

Stunts prohibited since 1900s

Jean Francois Gravelot — nicknamed the Great Blondin — first crossed the Niagara Gorge on a high wire in 1850, and nearly a dozen people followed, all walking downstream of, rather than directly above, the falls. It has been more than 100 years since anyone has repeated the feat.

Stunts involving the falls have been prohibited since the early 1900s, although this has not stopped many from trying to make their mark.

Jim Diodati, mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont., supports Wallenda's plan, believing it will be good for tourism and a boost to the city's economy.

"There won't be a vacant hotel room in the city," he said.

"We typically attract  upwards of 12 million people a year and there is no reason why we can't attract 13 million people."

Officials in Niagara Falls, N.Y., also support the idea and believe a revival of the area's daredevil past could be what the city needs to boost its economy, which has been struggling for decades.

Both chambers of the New York legislature approved a bill to specifically allow Wallenda to perform the walk.

With files from The Associated Press