Friday, June 18, 2010

New tour of falls is quite the walk : Niagara County : The Buffalo News

NIAGARA FALLS—He’s known as “Niagara Falls John,” and he leads a new “Thundering Water Walking Tour” of our continent’s biggest waterfall.

Guide John Dojka, 46, has worked for a couple of other area tour companies for several years and says he was inspired by the Free Niagara Association, spearheaded by Frederick Law Olmsted, when he started his own company, Niagara Falls Green Tours.

Olmsted, designer of New York City’s Central Park and Buffalo’s park system, felt that the falls exemplified a spectacular natural landscape to be set aside in large reservations from major metropolitan areas. Dojka quotes Olmsted that “Goat Island should be a place for walking, since only by exploring it on foot could visitors experience its special charm."

“That’s it exactly,” says Dojka, who now has the ability to transmit his love of this area, his knowledge of the falls and the region’s history into a memorable, guided journey.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster was among those who attended the ribbon-cutting of Niagara Falls Green Tours recently at Old Falls Street and Rainbow Boulevard, near the “spray pool” area of Old Falls Street.

Dojka promises an “up close and personal experience, with the sights and sounds of nature surrounding the legendary waterfall and the Reservation State Park.” He calls his tours “ecofriendly.” They include stops at Hennepin Rock—where explorer-priest Louis Hennepin was said to have viewed the falls—the Rainbow Bridge, the Honeymoon Bridge wreckage, Great Lakes Gardens and more. Participants also visit Cave of the Winds, Prospect Point, Terrapin Point, Luna Island and Three Sisters Islands in about two hours (wheelchair users can join in, too).

“Thundering Water”— that’s the Native American name for Niagara Falls?

Yes, the name of our tour actually came from a local Native American who gave me the idea. There are many Indian legends of the spirits who live under the falls and in the roaring waters.

Why walk when you can ride?

Green tours bring you closer to nature and the natural sights of the falls and the park.

Nothing can compare to walking and feeling the breeze and the mist of the falls, hearing birds, the wind blowing in the trees and the water rushing over the falls. We bring you closer to nature— while still enjoying the conveniences of the park on a beautiful scenic trolley ride as we go from Goat Island to the mainland.

How have local businesses reacted to your green tours?

The concept of a green walking tour of Niagara Falls State Park has been met with tremendous support from the area’s hoteliers, bed-and-breakfasts and hostels. They now have the opportunity to offer their guests a tour choice that’s both informative and affordable. We have networked with local merchants to offer special buys and discounts to our guests through our exclusive Wooden Nickel program that gives discounts and special buys at local businesses throughout the City of Niagara Falls.

Tell us something about your personal history.

I was born and raised in Niagara Falls. I’m the youngest of six children. My father, Stephan, a World War II veteran, and mother, Julie, came from families of first-generation Polish immigrants. Their history is steeped in Niagara Falls’ east side Polish community. I’m the great-grandson of one of the founders (Jacob Pasek) of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, built on East Falls Street in Niagara Falls in 1906. The church and its buildings are now on the national list of historic buildings.

What kind of work did you do before you became a tour guide?

During the Grenada invasion and before the Panama takeover between 1982 to 1985, I served in the Army and was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with the 101st Airborne.

Through the Army, which I joined at 18,I was able to travel to places from Panama to Alaska. Then I worked as a machinist, laborer and driver for many years. My love of Niagara’s history drew me to the Niagara Falls tour business as a guide, where I fell in love with the business and its visitors.

Why did you start Niagara Falls Green Tours?

To offer an alternative to the traditional tour.

You give an “up close and personal” falls experience. You don’t want to get too “up close and personal” with the cataracts, yes?

Correct—you need to stay on the paths and within the walking areas of the park.

Tell us about some famous visitors?<

The first recorded newlyweds were American aristocrats Joseph Alston and Thedosia Burr—daughter of Aaron Burr, vice president of the U. S.—who visited Niagara Falls in 1802. It was rumored Jerome Bonaparte, younger brother of Napoleon, and his bride, Elizabeth Patterson of Baltimore, also honeymooned at Niagara Falls the following year. It was customary for newlyweds to throw pennies into Bridal Veil Falls to bless their union.

One reason why you’d never want to go over the American Falls—those rocks out front?

The rocks in front of the American Falls are known as the “rock of ages.
New tour of falls is quite the walk : Niagara County : The Buffalo News

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