You heard right — the decks that extend up to the base of Bridal Veil Falls are taken down and built anew every year. Here’s why — and how they do it.
Cave of the Winds is certainly one of Niagara Falls State Park’s main attractions, and it’s easy to see why. In the high season, visitors can get closer to the Falls — Bridal Veil Falls, to be specific — than they ever thought possible by donning a poncho, taking an elevator down 150 feet into the Niagara Gorge, and then following a series of decks and staircases over the base of the Falls to the Hurricane Deck, where they can stand a mere 20 feet away from the roar of the natural wonder.
Those decks they follow to get there, however, are not permanent structures. Each fall, the Hurricane Deck and the walkways leading up to it are painstakingly removed, board by board, nail by nail. It’s a laborious task — but one that’s absolutely necessary come winter.
“The ice falling over the Falls would hit the wooden decks, and the build-up of ice below would be just too heavy,” said Brendan Walsh, Cave of the Winds’ chief deck builder with Niagara Falls State Park. “The crew who takes down and rebuilds the decks is made up of State Park employees, most of whom have little or no carpentry experience when they join the team. Their most important asset is that they want to be a part of the crew and are willing to learn a Niagara Falls tradition that has been passed down for over a hundred years.”
So how do they do it? “By staying focused and mentally sharp, even with all the distractions and noise,” Walsh said. “A healthy respect for the raging river around you is a must.” Here, Walsh explains how he and his crew of seven get things done.
The Removal Process
Taking down the decks takes about four weeks and is typically started in late fall.
- Step 1: The crew goes over safety practices and gear and assesses hazards to minimize risks.
- Step 2: An experienced builder tears down the section of bridge or deck with a 36-inch pry bar one piece at a time and passes it back to the rest of the crew.
- Step 3: Nails are pounded out of the boards and removed, and the wood is inspected and stacked to be used again (or thrown out if it isn’t good enough).
- Step 4, etc.: Wood is power-washed and stained at a nearby warehouse. New lumber is ordered and stained. About 30% new lumber is used every year.
The Rebuilding Process
To reinstall the decks takes about five or six weeks. The crew typically begins in mid-March when the majority of the ice has melted.
- Step 1: The crew brings the new or repainted lumber down the elevator. Because the boards are so long (the elevator has a maximum of 14 feet), most have to be loaded in one piece at a time. Maximum length of 14 ft and has to be loaded in one piece at a time.
- Step 2: The crew has to chop and shovel the remaining ice as well as put hoses and sprinklers on to encourage melting.
- Step 3: The decks, walkways and bridges are built one piece at a time with each piece supporting the next one. The wood is cut on the spot to fit into the rocky terrain that has usually shifted and changed under the pressure of the winter’s ice.
Visiting the Cave of the Winds in Spring
Experience the thrill of Cave of the Winds and see this year’s Hurricane Deck! You’ll take the elevator down to the base of the Falls, then take a short walk along a paved path to a permanent viewing platform to experience breathtaking views of the Falls. The Cave of the Winds and Pavilion is a timed ticketed attraction, and à la carte tickets are available for purchase in the park.
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