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Two falls barrel-riders support Wallenda Laws create tightrope for gaining approval

Two daredevils who rode barrels over Niagara Falls say they support Nik Wallenda's bid for official approval to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. In fact, say Steve Trotter and Dave Munday, who each plunged over the Horseshoe Falls twice, if stunting is legalized, count them in.

"If they let him go, then I should be able to go again," said Munday, who rode barrels over the falls in 1985 and 1993. "If they wouldn't fine me, I would do it once a week. Let me get the same barrel back and make some money off it."

"I'm all for it," said Steve Trotter, who went over in 1985 and again in 1995 in a two-person barrel with Lori Martin. "I respect the legislators for finally giving up a little permission, I give them credit. Thank you for seeing the light!"

If Wallenda is given approval, "Then they would have to give me permission, right?" asked Trotter. "Now you're going to give Steve Trotter permission?"

In fact, Trotter takes it one step further: He said authorities should schedule a day each spring and fall when would-be daredevils could show up with approved barrels and be allowed to ride them over the falls.

"Let's get a day where, hey, you want to go over the falls? Have them inspect your rig, make sure it's going to be able to take the 18-story fall, and if it's structurally sound, off you go," Trotter said. "Have a day in the spring and a day in the fall, for barrels and tightrope walkers.

"If somebody wants to do it, use their own rescuers, not put the Canadian and American rescuers in jeopardy, God bless them!" said Trotter, who lives in Florida but returns to the area occasionally. "Let's bring some tourism back to Niagara Falls, a natural wonder of the world that's being neglected because it's not being promoted right. Barrel-riders would bring a half million people to the gorge."

Munday, who now lives in Nova Scotia, said: "I'll be back there to do it again. I'll be 75 on March 13th, and maybe I'll do it again on my 75th birthday, expecting no fines and to get welcomed by the politicians."

Munday said authorities should also approve a tightrope walk by Philippe Petit, who was denied permission in 1986 to recreate one of Blondin's frequent walks across the gorge in 1859 and 1860.

Petit, an internationally known tightrope walker, finally got approval to walk on a cable between two cranes set up near the river.

"If they let [Wallenda] go, they should let Petit go, too," said Munday. "He's a professional, too."

Trotter, who was fined more than $8,000 after his 1995 stunt, said his representatives had tried to get permission for him to go over the falls legally before that plunge.

"For one thing, you're never going to get permission," he said. "Lord knows, people have tried for me."

Trotter said that actually riding a barrel over the falls "is nothing compared to just getting away with it. It's hard to do, facing a smuggling charge and such astronomical fines."

Munday suggested that if officials on both sides of the border approve Wallenda's walk, which he called "no more than a glorified circus stunt," they shouldn't stop there to draw tourists. "If they want a circus, they should have lions and tigers and elephants and tightrope walkers and have all their clowns up there, and make it into a real circus," he said.

Trotter expressed admiration for the Wallenda family.

"That family has been around since the 1800s, and those kids are on wires before they can walk," he said. "If you want to go there with your family and watch, enjoy the quality of life at Niagara Falls and watch the Wallenda family do their thing, which they have been doing legally for 150 years."

But Munday said he wouldn't "even walk as far as my mailbox" to see Wallenda's stunt.

"I can remember when the falls was a thing of beauty," said Munday. "When I was a boy, my dad took us down there and you could park the car and look around for nothing. Now you can't do that. Niagara Falls is nothing but a money grab now. They are out to get every penny they can out of everybody who goes there."

Trotter said he is in favor of the plan to attract tourism to the area. "There's money to be made for the State of New York and the Province of Ontario, and if they can clean up that area and get some more tourism there by doing this, who wouldn't be for it?" he said. "I don't even live there and I'm for it!"

Fred Hollidge, a retired Niagara Falls (Ont.) Parks Police staff sergeant, who prepared cases against the daredevils of the 1980s and 1990s, said that Wallenda's own rescue team will lack the experience of dealing with the unpredictable currents and wind at the falls. "Anything can happen, and the bottom line is that if something goes wrong, it's too late," he said.

Hollidge charged Munday, Trotter and Martin, as well as barrel-riders Karel Soucek, Jeffrey Petkovich and Peter DeBernardi. He also investigated the deaths of Jesse Sharp, who went over in a kayak in 1990, and Robert Overacker, who went over on a jet ski in 1995.

"This just never ends," said Hollidge. "All this does is send a signal to somebody else, 'Yeah, sure, go ahead, you get a few minutes of notoriety, you may or may not get on television.' We have laws in place that are supposed to prevent this. So either you're going to allow stunting, in which case, remove the laws and then you're on your own, or have the laws in place and be prepared to enforce them. It's as simple as that."

email: aneville@buffnews.com

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