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Niagara in wonderland Officials ponder cost of pursuing title for Falls in contest

A global contest by a Swiss-based foundation to name the New 7 Wonders of Nature has tourism officials on the U.S. side of the border hustling to find out just what's involved in the competition.

Niagara Falls not the tallest waterfall in the world, but among the widest and most visited -- is one of 261 nominees in a competition sponsored by the nonprofit New7Wonders Foundation to classify seven new natural wonders.

Niagara Falls is currently ranked No. 2 in online votes in the "lakes, rivers, waterfalls" category of the contest, but unless it gets a U.S. sponsor, the natural attraction cannot progress as one of 77 semi-finalists in July.

That was the message in a letter sent to Canadian newspapers and officials last week from contest organizers.

But John Percy, president and chief executive officer of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., said he and Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster are cautiously researching the cost of the competition before signing a contract to create an "official supporting committee."

"Of course we want to be one of the seven new wonders, and we're very excited about anything that will help expose the destination," Percy said. "We just want to make sure that we're looking at it with open eyes and looking at everything to make sure that it is what it says it is."

New7Wonders Foundation, based in Zurich, Switzerland, in July 2007 named its New 7 Wonders of the World, a list of man-made structures that included the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal in India.

It then started accepting nominations for natural wonders in a similar online contest on its Web site, www.new7wonders.com.

Last month, the group announced that Niagara Falls was among 261 nominees selected by online voters to progress to the next round in the competition. The list includes other geographical features like the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest and the Yangtze River.

Niagara Falls has already been officially sponsored by a Canadian agency, Niagara Falls Tourism, according to New7Wonders' Web site.

But the waterfalls' location on an international border means it needs two sponsoring committees -- each authorized by a government agency with responsibility for the location -- from both countries.

Jerauld A. Genova, chairman of the Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board, said he plans to set up a steering committee at the board's next meeting to look into the contest.

"Without anybody doing anything, it's already working it's way up," Genova said of Niagara Falls. "That right away tells us that it's a shame if we don't put something together and do something."

Percy said he is concerned that the New7Wonders Foundation was trying to "strong arm" officials on the U.S. side of the border into entering the contest when it sent out letters last week to Canadian newspapers warning that the waterfalls could be out of the running unless U.S. officials acted.

Percy said he is reviewing a copy of the contract a supporting committee must sign to determine the cost of entering and participating in the contest, which includes a world tour of each of the final nominees.

"Who pays for that world tour?" Percy asked. "There's just some real ambiguous terms in that contract that really have to be defined, I think, by all parties before we jump in and sign the document."

Representatives from New7Wonders Foundation did not immediately respond to a request for information Sunday.

Dozens of other geographical features among the 261 nominees also do not yet have an "official supporting committee," according to the contest Web site.

The traditional Seven Wonders of the World -- sometimes called the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World -- include the Egyptian pyramids, the hanging gardens of Babylon and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. It is comprised of all man-made features.

"I've been trying for years to correct the record here," said Paul Gromosiak, an historian who has written nine books about Niagara Falls. "People around here very often still refer to it as one of the seven wonders, or the seventh wonder; it's not."

Gromosiak said he doesn't believe Niagara Falls would qualify as a new natural wonder because of the man-made structures -- like skyscrapers -- that have been built around it.

"It has been greatly affected by human activity," Gromosiak said. "The word natural means to be untouched by human activity. We want our cake here, and we want to eat it, too, so to speak. We need to face reality, and reality is we've transformed the falls into a sideshow."

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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