High Falls Gorge Owner Kathryn Reiss and Northwoods Engineer Joe Garso stand on the glass platform over the Au Sable River after a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 1.
In the aftermath of two storms that hit the North Country this year, a historic natural attraction was cut off from public view for the first time since World War II.
With the hard work and determination of High Falls Gorge owner Kathryn Reiss, the 35-foot path along the West Branch of the Ausable River was reopened in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 1.
“If it wasn’t for the hard work of everyone involved, this day wouldn’t have been possible,” Reiss said. “I am so thankful that the community has come together to show us how much they love this place.”
High Falls Gorge was first damaged by flooding to the region in April. Reiss said that they had worked hard to rebuild, only to have floodwaters in August from Tropical Storm Irene exceed the previous flood by 7 feet.
“The damages have been excessive,” Reiss said. “We have had to pay for everything right out of pocket. It felt discouraging to work so hard after the April storm to have to start all over again in August, but we have been determined and I’m proud of the work we’ve done.”
With the help of engineer, Joe Garso of Northwoods Engineering, High Falls Gorge reopened its walkway to a small group of people on Oct. 1. The walkway brings a modern feel to the historic natural setting with new glass-topped walkways that extend over the river to enhance the experience of walking over the waterway. Garso said he got the idea from buildings in metropolitan cities like Toronto and New York City that offer that same kind of experience.
Garso and Reiss worked together to build structures that will be more secure in the event of future disasters.
Small businesses like High Falls Gorge were exempt from receiving any FEMA assistance after the storms damaged the region. Wilmington Town Supervisor Randy Preston, who attended the Oct. 1 ceremony, said that businesses are the backbone of the community, what brings people in and what supports the community.
The damages to the Gorge have exceeded $200,000, and financing has been privately funded through bank loans and personal donations by supporters of the Gorge.
Reiss said she has received checks with heartfelt letters of support from people who have visited the Gorge or grew up in the region, expressing how passionate they felt about keeping the Gorge open for more visitors.
“It means a lot to see how much others love this place like we do,” Reiss said.
Though the opening of the new walkway is a monumental victory for the Gorge, there is much left to do. Reiss estimates there is still about $120,000 in repairs needing to be completed.
“Right now we have temporary supports holding the main bridge to the footpath,” Reiss said. “Our main lodge is in need of serious work in the basement walls and bathrooms. We are used to helping out the community any way we can offering our lodge for school dances and fundraisers. This is the first time we are the ones who need the help.”
For more information on how to help High Falls Gorge or give a donation, visit online at www.HighFallsGorge.com or visit the Gorge in person on state Route 86 in the town of Wilmington.