It is without question that Niagara Falls State Park is one of the most beautiful places our state and country has to offer, drawing an average of nine million tourists every year. People come from all over the world to experience the power and wonder that is Niagara Falls. Designated as a national historic site and the nation’s very first state park, it comes as no surprise the amount of attention it receives.
However, something most people miss out on is the endless beauty of Niagara Falls in the winter. Watching the cascading water crash through the pure white snow and ice creates a unique and memorable experience only attainable during the winter. Visiting the Falls in the wintertime offers tourists stunning views and the beauty of freezing mist covering the landscape.
The newly constructed Cave of the Winds pre-show attraction is now open year-round and offers audiences interactive and virtual exhibits as well as an escape from the chilly temperatures.
Although the Park has received some attention recently pertaining to the beautiful winter wonderland, some articles have mentioned the falls being “iced over” or “freezing over”. It is important to note that the only documented incident of the Falls being frozen completely came in March of 1848 when the Buffalo ExpressNewspaper stated the cause to be ice damming at the mouth of Lake Erie. The installation of an ice boom at the mouth of the Niagara River has made the likelihood of this event recurring very low if not impossible. Even during the infamous Polar Vortex of 2014 the Falls continued to flow.
This does not mean that it has not come very close to freezing since then. During the early 1900’s tourists would often walk out onto “ice bridges” forming across the top of the Falls. This activity proved to be very dangerous and was forbidden after February 1914.
All photos provided by State Parks Naturalist Nicole Czarnecki were taken during the Winter Wonder Photography hike. Look for other events at Niagara Falls and surrounding parks this winter on their Facebook page.
Water is a natural substance that all of us encounter on a daily basis. We rinse with it to clean ourselves and we drink it to stay healthy. In addition, more than 60% of the human body is comprised of water. But have you ever stopped to consider the uniqueness of this molecule that plays an intricate part of our lives and bodies?
Perhaps the beauty of water begins with the simplicity of its molecule, H2O. It is made-up of only two elements: two hydrogen atoms (H2) and one oxygen atom (O). The H atoms create a slight positive electrical charge on one end of the molecule (a positive pole), while the O atom creates a slight negative charge (a negative pole). This polarity helps liquid water attract to, surround and break apart more substances than any other known liquid. Thus, scientists call water a “universal solvent” – something that many other substances (e.g. salt, sugar, powdered hot cocoa) can dissolve into. This attractive quality is how water is able to transport many vital minerals and nutrients throughout our soils, plants and environment.
Not only does water bind easily to other substances (adhesion), but it also sticks well to itself (cohesion). The positive and negative ends of water molecules attract to each other and form water droplets. These dual properties help explain how water can ascent up the trunks of trees – water clings to the inner walls of the xylem in tree trunks and pulls other water molecules along, travelling up against the forces of gravity. You can observe water’s cohesive forces by filling up a glass of water slightly over the rim; water will hold onto itself and not spill over the sides. Similarly, surface tension enables spiders and insects, such as the water strider, to walk on the surface of the water. And so this seemingly simple molecule is capable of amazing feats.
Surface tension in a glass of water: Left glass is filled over the rim with water, right glass is empty for comparison. Photo by Lilly Schelling, OPRHP
Close-up of water being held together by surface tension. Photo by Lilly Schelling, OPRHP
Water has special physical qualities as well. Unlike any other material on Earth, water can exist in solid, liquid and gaseous forms naturally. The gas form floats freely in the air we breathe, with many molecules moving haphazardly far away from each other. This vapor can condense into clouds and return water to the earth as either rain or snow. When we hear the word “water” we usually think of the liquid form, and that’s probably because ~70% of our planet is covered in oceans. Snow and ice are examples of water’s solid phase, with molecules tightly packed and organized into crystalline structures. Unlike most other materials, the solid phase of water is less dense than its liquid form, which means ice can float atop liquid water. This property is useful in lakes during the wintertime, as surface ice acts as an insulating layer for the water below, shielding aquatic life from extremely cold temperatures. Clearly, water is a necessary ingredient for survival.
New York State has more than 70,000 miles of rivers and streams and around 7,600 lakes, ponds and reservoirs. Additionally, we are fortunate to share our borders with two Great Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Whether flowing, still, above or below ground, water is a ubiquitous feature in New York State Parks. It supports life and creates habitats for aquatic plants and animals. At the same time, water provides endless opportunities for recreation.
Many of our State Parks offer outdoor activities which involve water. Check out the 2016 Empire Passport to learn more about how you can access our state parks in any season. From swimming, boating and water skiing in the summer, to snowshoeing, sledding and cross-country skiing in the winter, to fishing (ice, fly or reel) year round — there is water-filled fun for every age all year long. The unusual chemical and physical properties that make water so valuable are also what make water so unique and enjoyable.
Post by Melyssa Smith and Erin Lennon (OPRHP Water Quality team)
In winter, New York’s gorges and waterfalls turn into frozen ice sculptures that are no less beautiful than their summertime counterparts. These pictures of frozen waterfalls at Thacher State Park are iconic of New York’s natural beauty at any time of the year. Don’t let the cold and snow keep you cooped up inside all winter long. Thacher, and many of our other state parks in New York, offers wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking and snowshoeing.