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A BRILLIANT FALLS OBSERVATION: TOWER MUST GO!

American talk of removing our side's hideous observation tower deserves a neighborly offer from Canada to take down one of its own overdone man-made wonders at Niagara Falls, too. But whether or not the U.S. initiative leads to aesthetic detente to save the natural beauty of Niagara, U.S. officials are on the right track.

Unlike a lot of man-made distractions at the falls, which are most bothersome to those looking across the river to the other side, the U.S. tower is a visual annoyance to visitors on both sides of the cataracts.

The 281-foot tower was built in 1961 -- and looks it. While 36 might be a prime age for a person, it's the age of obsolescence for a structure once hailed as an "aluminum-steel-and-glass marvel of engineering science."

Thanks to exposure to the elements at the falls, that "marvel" now is covered with almost as much rust as paint. Decorative green panels have faded to brown or the brown has faded to green -- it's hard to tell which. The glass is grimy, the elevators are cramped and the whole thing looks like a reject from the era of the Edsel.

But those are the least of the problems with the massive tower. Even if repainted and restored to mint condition, it would hover like a Jolly Green Giant over the falls, irreparably ruining what should be a natural experience at one of the world's natural wonders.

From the Niagara Reservation, the view of the majestic Horseshoe cataracts from the Father Hennepin marker is so circumscribed by the tower and bridge leading to it that it's like looking at the falls through a peephole.

Even when one bypasses the tower entrance and proceeds close enough to get an unobstructed view of the U.S. falls, it's like being in a monster movie -- you're scared to turn around for fear of what's behind you.

Taking the tower elevator down to the base of the falls and looking back is even worse. The view of gorgeous brown, red and black rocks that make up the gorge wall is irreparably marred by this man-made appendage that juts out from the rock, as if nature had a birth defect.

No matter how much the tower is spruced up, the bottom line is that such a structure simply does not belong in this natural setting. There are plenty of vantage points from which to see both sets of falls without it. State parks official Edward Rutkowski succinctly describes it as "too tall, too big and too ugly . . . a blight on the land and a visual intrusion."

The view up from the base of the falls, as the mighty Niagara River rushes over, is awe-inspiring and must not be lost. Access to the Maid of the Mist boats in the lower river also should be maintained. But less intrusive ways of getting tourists down to those areas must be found.

As breathtaking as a trip to the falls always is, the most frustrating part is looking around and visualizing how much more entrancing it would be without some of the "improvements" made by egotistical humankind.

The Canadians got rid of a monstrous Ferris wheel -- one of many blots on their skyline -- a few years ago. It's encouraging that both U.S. parks officials and business people recognize that the tower is another such distraction that simply must go.

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