Steve Lackmann always loved the Cohoes Falls. It was the view he didn’t care for.
“You’d go over there with a camera and those nasty power lines would always get in the way,” said Lackmann, a fifth-generation Cohoes native who began serving as the Cohoes city historian last year. “You couldn’t get a great picture of it. There wasn’t a place to get a nice unobstructed view unless you wanted to drive over to Waterford and take a shot from the west side of the river.”
Lackmann no longer has those concerns. Because of Brookfield Renewable, formerly the Brookfield Power Co., Cohoes residents and visitors from around the world can a great look at the falls from Falls View Park, a new observation post built adjacent to Brookfield’s hydropower plant on the Mohawk River just below the falls.
“I purposely stayed away from the area until it was done because like a lot of Cohoes residents I wanted to soak it in,” said Mayor John T. McDonald III, recalling his first trip to Falls View Park when it opened in late August. “It was unbelievable. You feel so close to the falls, it’s phenomenal. I’m 46 — so I’ve been around for a while, and it was great to look into the eyes of people who are 60, 70 and 80, and see the satisfaction in their eyes. This is something they’ve always wished for. ”
Visitors can now park their cars in a parking lot on North Mohawk Street and walk across the School Street Canal on a 192-foot-long pedestrian bridge designed by Cohoes native Jeremy Bourdeau of Barton and Loguidice, P.C. It’s a view of the falls, about 75 feet high and 1,000 feet wide, that was always off limits to everyone except Brookfield employees.
“There was a lot of hard work that went into bringing this project to fruition, and we’re absolutely thrilled,” said Tom Uncher, general manager of Hudson River Operations for Brookfield. “The City of Cohoes, all the people with the state that were involved, and certainly our Brookfield employees. We’re very proud of our accomplishment.”
The site was one of two statewide to receive the 2008 Erie Canalway Heritage Award for Excellence last week.
“This year’s winners provide innovative models for preserving our heritage and stimulating community and economic revitalization,” said Joe Callahan, chairman of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission, which also honored Canal Place in Little Falls. “We hope people will visit each of these sites to see for themselves what great places they are.”
The National Park Service was also involved in the project, supplying three interpretive panels at Falls View Park.
“The new park is a great place to look at the falls, and I really think this is going to bring people to Cohoes,” said Tom Carroll of the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, a nonprofit educational organization based in Troy that served as a consultant to the National Park Service for the three interpretive panels. “I’ve been giving tours of the falls to people from all over the world for years now, and we’re getting more and more interest as people hear about the new park. It’s an amazing spot.”
The new park will be closed for the winter season, but an improved facility at Overlook Park down on School Street, the only place where people could previously get a view of the falls, will remain open.
“There are too many potential problems to keep Falls View Park open during the winter, but we also did a lot of work on Overlook Park and now that’s also a great place to look at the falls,” said Uncher. “The transmission lines were removed so it’s a clear and beautiful view. We can also keep it open all winter, and some people may actually prefer that view. It’s a step back, and it gives you a more panoramic view of the falls.”
Brookfield, which paid for most of the $2 million project, isn’t done yet. A walkway from Falls View Park will take visitors down a slope to the river bank to allow for a look up at the falls.
“The construction will be done this year and it will be available to the public when the park opens next year,” said Uncher. “That’s going to be a very unique and very different experience for visitors.”
The water flow over the falls isn’t always as dramatic as it could be, and sometimes during the summer it is little more than a trickle. Brookfield, however, which controls how much water remains in the Mohawk and how much flows into its canal, will make sure that visitors get to see plenty of water rushing over the falls.
“There is always some natural flow and the Mohawk is traditionally a very flashy river,” said Uncher. “A couple of inches of rain in Utica can quickly exceed the canal capacity down here in Cohoes. But we will be increasing the water flow on weekends and holidays because we realize an esthetic flow is important for the view.”
According to Lackmann, Falls View Park and Overlook Park might help the Cohoes Falls regain its place as one of the nation’s most popular landmarks east of the Mississippi River.
“Of course, they didn’t know about Niagara Falls yet, but back in the 17th century the Dutch were amazed by the place,” said Lackmann. “And even later, people came from all over the world to look at the falls. When you look at old brochures and old Erie Canal books, you can tell it was a real tourist attraction. The history of Cohoes is tied to the falls and the water power that comes with it.”
Plans for lighting
Falls View Park is open dawn to dusk, but the mayor says that could change sometime in the near future.
“We’re working with RPI and their research lighting center into the possibility of lighting the falls,” said MacDonald. “That could happen some time in 2009 but we’re going to need a strategic partner to get that done. It’s all very exciting to see this wonderful new park all come together. It’s an awesome sight and we’ve had over 6,000 visitors since it opened. I think it will become a regular stop for tourists all over the state.”