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High-wire test run; Wallenda begins practice at Seneca Niagara Casino as locals and tourists gather to gawk and cheer

High-wire daredevil Nik Wallenda did his first test walk Saturday morning on the 2-inch cable he'll use in his attempt to walk across Niagara Falls next month.

A 1,200-foot-long section of the cable has been strung between two cranes in front of the Seneca Niagara Casino where Wallenda plans to practice twice a day through May 22.

A couple hundred locals and tourists turned out to gawk, cheer and shoot photos and videos with their cellphone cameras as Wallenda hopped onto the wire and slowly, but steadily, made his way across the wire.

"I think he's crazy," said Anthony Williams, a retired fisherman who lives in Lockport.

Williams arrived well before the scheduled 10:30 a.m. start time to stake out a spot near the wire where he could take in the scene from a blue folding chair.

Soft rock music pumped from outdoor speakers at the casino, and vendors sold hot dogs and ice cream to onlookers.

An array of people came to watch the first practice, including former Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Annello, who had his own camera crew for the occasion.

The Goo Goo Dolls' Robby Takac also was on hand.

"It's amazing to see all these people in Niagara Falls not just pulling slots," Takac said.

"People are here with their families," he said, proudly pointing out that he brought his wife and their newborn daughter.

There were even a few people watching who didn't know that Saturday's walk was just a prelude for the much bigger walk across the falls.

"That's so cool!" said Brandi Kaplan, 18, who was at the casino with her friend, Joe Kimanski, 20, when they saw signs about the wire act and came outside to check it out. They said they would be returning for the real deal June 15.

"Oh, yeah," Kimanski said nodding.

Wallenda will practice walking the wire in front of the casino every day from 10:30 a.m. to noon and then again at 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. through May 22, he said.

The practices are open to the public, something Wallenda had promised as part of his pitch to Niagara Falls and New York State officials to get permission to walk across the falls -- something that has been banned for more than a century.

To help simulate the experience, Wallenda is bringing in wind machines. He's also eager for rain showers forecast for today, to help replicate being so close to the falls.

There was a bit of a breeze but otherwise gorgeous, sunny conditions Saturday morning as Wallenda calmly put one foot in front of the other on the wire.

Onlookers watched nervously, and some on the ground walked along with him, keeping pace with the high-wire walker.

He ended up walking only about a third of the length of the wire during his morning practice session.

Wallenda later explained he stopped where he did because he could feel the steel cable "was moving back and forth under my feet," he said.

To prevent that, he placed a stabilizer -- a short weighted pole -- on the cable. He said he anticipates having to put in four to five stabilizers along the length of the cable when he walks across the falls.

Otherwise, he said he felt comfortable on the wire and was looking forward to walking more of it.

"It feels like sidewalk," Wallenda said.

When he got off of the wire and onto a platform, the crowd gave a hearty cheer.

"I don't feel like I did anything but " Wallenda shrugged.

One mother watching muttered under her breath: "Anytime you can walk away from it, it's a good walk," she said.

Also watching were Rick and Darcy Ballard of Buffalo, and their three daughters.

"I can't wait," said Lexi Ballard, 10.

"You want to see it," Darcy Ballard said, but acknowledged she's also worried about what would happen if Wallenda fell. "They could be traumatized."

Pam Woods of Niagara Falls said her 8-year-old daughter, Salena Woods, and her friend, Sadie Leopold, who is almost 8, were nervous watching Wallenda.

"Oh my gosh, every step," Woods said.

But she wants to make sure her daughter is at the falls to watch June 15.

"This is like history for them that they can tell their children," Woods said.

email: mbecker@buffnews.com