Pay a visit to Old Falls Street if you want a quick trip to an international tourist destination without leaving Western New York. The Middle Block of the pedestrian strip – which connects the Seneca Niagara Casino to Niagara Falls State Park – boasts a number of family friendly activities throughout the year.
It also boasts the Old Falls Street Running Club, a free gathering that meets at 5:45 p.m. each Wednesday from April through November in front of the Niagara County Community College Culinary Institute (for more info, visit fallsstreet.com/old-falls-streets-run-club). From December through March, they also lead Saturday morning and Wednesday evening runs in Lewiston.
Jessica Stankiewicz, 40, a Sanborn native who lives in Niagara Falls, is Run Club director. She and fellow running enthusiast Tracey Maciejewski lead the class, as well as one at 9 a.m. Sundays at the base of the North Grand Island Bridge, off Buffalo Avenue, also in the Falls.
Stankiewicz is assistant manager of safety and workers compensation for AAA of Western and Central New York, based in Amherst. She and her "significant other,” Jason Gonzalez, live in Niagara Falls and enjoy running and bicycling together.
She said of the running club she helps lead, “I get to run with some great people a couple times a week and I’ve made some great friends. It’s a big support system.”
Q. How old is the running club and when did it start?
We’re in our third season. We started in the spring of 2014. We grew from there and put some things out on social media, Facebook, and asked runners if they wanted to join us. We have about 20, 25 runners.
Q. What is the range of abilities?
We accept all ages, all speeds and distances. Tracey and I make sure we never leave anyone behind.
Q. I see lots of foreign language messages on your Twitter hashtag, #RunNF.
We have had people from out of the country who were visiting the Falls join us, as well as other tourists every once in a while. A couple weeks ago, we had a young runner from Delaware who ran with us after she saw our Old Falls Street sign. I haven’t checked out the Twitter page in a while. We got the #RunNF from #LiveNF, which is a movement in Niagara Falls to get local people involved in the community.
Q. How far, and where, do you run?
We run between 3 and 5 miles. If we’re in the Falls, we’re going to be running Old Falls Street to Goat Island or we’ll run from Old Falls Street to the Gorge Trail and do a little trail running. We run the Niagara Scenic Trail – that closed road that used to be the Robert Moses Parkway.
Q. What are some of the more interesting things you’ve seen on your runs?
On Goat Island, we always see a family of black cats. They come out in spring and we see them throughout the summer. We see a lot of tourists. It’s been pretty hot this summer and they always look at us like we’re crazy. We’re running, sweating. We look like a mess. ...
Our city was struggling for a while and we’ve seen such a change over the years with Goat Island itself and changing and the city streets. There’s lots of places to visit and hang out after our runs. Sometimes we go to Twist of the Mist, the ice cream stand. Other times, we patronize local bars that have just opened. We share a lot of information with our runners about what’s going on in the community.
Q. What races are folks preparing for during the next few weeks?
Old Falls Street is training for a couple fall races, including the Turkey Trot, my favorite race of the year. We’ll all be running that together. There’s also the Niagara Falls Firefighters Christmas Toy Fun Charity Run. It’s an option of a 3- or 6-mile run at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 in LaSalle Waterfront Park.
Q. Can you share any stories about people who started running awhile back and have reaped better health and wellness?
We have a wide variety of runners who like to enjoy Western New York and stay healthy. Fran and Jack are our two oldest runners. Jack might be 86 right now and Fran is 75 years young. They are big supporters of Niagara Falls. I’ve been trying to keep healthy and running twice a week makes you mentally and physically healthy and happy. We’ve had a lot of people who’ve been injured and need a group of people to run casually, so we have a few people who are rehabbing. We have some people who run 5Ks and some who are triathletes. Usually we get a couple of kids who want to run with us but this year we haven’t had any. We have had kids as young as 7. He did pretty good. He was pretty fast. We welcome all ages and ask that the parents either run with their children or leave one of the kids with Tracey or I so they have someone to run with.
Q. Ever run, or think of running, an international trip across the Rainbow Bridge or on the Ontario side of the falls?
A few of our runners have. We all talk about local races and the group does run a lot of races in Canada but the Canadian runners are a lot faster than we are. I did a half marathon in Canada a couple years ago, the Scotia Bank Half Marathon. Tracey and I did it. That was a tough day. It was a cold day and breezy along the water. You think you’re going to be finishing and it’s still going.
Q. What other activities do you and your Jason take advantage of on and near Old Falls Street?
I just finished a bike ride across the state called the Empire State Ride (read a Refresh blog series about the ride here). It was amazing. I used the running club as training and the members supported me over the last few months to get me ready for my ride. We would run and go spinning. They were a big moral support for me.
Right now, Jason and I are work a local initiative called Barrel Through Niagara. The Downtown Niagara Falls Business Association sponsored Jason and I and gave us a wine barrel to represent barrels going over Niagara Falls. We are redesigning it to put it on the Third Street Art Alley. It’s a hashtag theme, #WowNiagaraFalls, to represent the wonder of the world.
We have a barrel with a huge globe on top and a red pushpin in Niagara Falls and there’s a big hashtag sign on the front of the barrel. We’re looking to get people to take pictures of themselves with the barrel in Niagara Falls.