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Niagara Falls tightrope appears to have US support

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) — Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda appears to have won over U.S. officials with his plans for a made-for-television walk across Niagara Falls on a high wire, but he still faces a tough sell in Canada, where a parks official said Wednesday the proposal lacks key support.

“Every walk that I do, there’s obstacles in the way. There’s always somebody or something that comes across negative, but I live for that sort of thing,” Wallenda, a seventh-generation member of the Great Wallendas, told reporters after going over the logistics of the cross-border walk with New York state lawmakers and emergency responders.

On Thursday, Wallenda planned to make his case to Canadian authorities, including members of the Niagara Parks Commission who would have to grant permission for the walk to take place in the spot he’s picked out. The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and others back the plan, but the commission, with its strict anti-stunting policy, has turned down similar requests in the past.

“The commissioners have discussed it recently and have said that we want to stay with our existing policy, that we don’t want to make an exception at this point,” Janice Thomson, the commission’s interim chairwoman, told The Associated Press.

“We want to remain focused on the commission’s mandate, which is to preserve, conserve, inspire love for the natural beauty of Niagara Falls,” she said.

But Wallenda has no intention of stopping his pursuit.

“One thing that was passed on from generation to generation in my family, over seven generations in 200 years, was never give up,” Wallenda responded. “That’s the way we live.”

From a restaurant balcony overlooking the gorge, Wallenda described his plans for a spring or summer of 2012 walk across a wire 2 inches in diameter and about 1,800 feet 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.

“My dream is actually to walk right in the middle of that mist and disappear, walk out the other end,” he said motioning to the opaque cloud rising from the crashing water into the air. The wire doesn’t become slippery when wet, he said, and the suede-leather shoes his mother makes for him become stickier with moisture.

Wallenda said he’s done longer and higher walks but none that has attracted the worldwide interest this has. It would be recorded for the Discovery channel series about his work, “Life on a Wire.”

“I’ve walked literally thousands of wires around the world,” said Wallenda, who holds six Guinness World Records, including one set in 2008 for the longest distance and greatest height ever traveled by bicycle on a high wire. “This is a dream because of what it is: It’s a natural wonder.”

He recalled hearing stories growing up about the historic Niagara Falls daredevils whose names are immortalized in museums and literature. Jean Francois Gravelot — “the Great Blondin” — first crossed the Niagara Gorge on a high wire in 1850, and nearly a dozen followed, all walking downstream of, rather than directly above, the falls. It’s been more than 100 years since anyone has repeated the feat.

“It’s about carrying on the legacy and doing something I love and have a passion for,” Wallenda said.

Both chambers of the New York Legislature approved a bill to specifically allow Wallenda to perform the walk, which would otherwise be illegal. Lawmakers view it as a way to boost tourism and revenue for the falls and the downtrodden city around the park. Sen. George Maziarz, the Senate sponsor, said the legislation would likely be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature in the next two weeks.

Assemblyman John Ceretto, who represents the city of Niagara Falls, said the buzz generated by Wallenda’s proposal is already paying off.

“Nik Wallenda’s been around the world marketing this area and the response has been great,” he said.

“If done right, this will be a signature event that the world will remember for a long time to come,” Maziarz said.

Wallenda acknowledged he has a Plan B if his proposal fails to win approval from Canadian officials. That might involve walking between two points on the American side of the falls, he said.

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