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Serenity now: Falls’ winter landscape draws visitors who like to chill

NIAGARA FALLS – To some people, the falls are even more majestic, more magical, when nature paints a layer of frozen mist on the cataracts’ surroundings in the height of winter.

The small tree branches’ white frozen fingers point away from the mighty waterfall on the American side. The park benches look pristine and geometric, with their well-defined strips and layers of frozen mist. Even the trash bins look clean and white.

That doesn’t mean the crowds flock here to see the falls’ grandeur when sub-freezing temperatures and/or blowing snow invade this tourist mecca.

But for the handful of visitors who brave such elements, there’s an added allure to one of the world’s great wonders.

“I’ve always loved coming here in the winter,” said Vince Long, a 46-year-old North Buffalo native now living in Carlsbad, Calif. “No crowds. It’s quieter. It’s more serene, more peaceful.”

He visited the falls this week with his wife, Gigi, and their two young sons, Joshua and Jacob. The family pulled out all its winter clothing to deal with temperatures in the low 20s, although it felt colder at the brink of the falls.

“You don’t hear all the chatter, the camera clicks and the selfies,” he said. “It’s just you and the falls and the elements.”

Becky Macko, a Derby native who also lives in California, in Orange County, felt the same way. She came back, with her husband, Steve, and their teenage sons, Drew and Ryan.

“The falls in the winter, it’s just a different feel,” she said. “It’s slower and lets you step back and appreciate the falls. It’s just so beautiful.”

Winter clearly is the falls’ slowest time of the year, according to John Percy, president and CEO of Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp.

“You’re going to have your highest traffic in June, July and August,” he said, before referring to monthly totals. “You’re talking thousands, versus hundreds” in the winter.

Still, traffic through the first half of January more than doubled last year’s total, as measured by one monitor, the number of people walking through the Niagara USA Official Visitor Center. The first 15 days of January saw 811 visitors, compared to 385 for the same period last year, Percy said. He attributed the increase to the milder weather and greater digital-marketing efforts.

Some winter visitors clearly appreciate their more private, less hassled views of the falls.

“We were actually saying that it was nice without the crowds,” Steve Macko said. “It’s so pretty in the winter with everything frozen.”

Sergio Romero, of Costa Rica, and Nueng Areerob, from Thailand, met while working in Niagara Falls 11 years ago. But they came back, with Romero’s sister and mother, who had never seen snow before.

Romero and Areerob were used to seeing the falls. But this week they saw it through a different lens, a starkly white one.

“We don’t have this kind of landscape,” Romero said of his homeland. “Everything (here) is very white and cold and frozen. That’s very different for us.”

Areerob compared the winter versus summer experiences at the falls.

“I saw it in the summertime, all green, and now it’s all white,” she said. “It’s beautiful in the wintertime, because it’s unique. You cannot see this in other places.”

Percy, the tourism official, touted the four-season appeal of the falls, especially during the winter.

“I think it’s probably one of the most picturesque times of the year,” he said. “The winter truly is magical, when the mist hits the trees and the sun comes out. It really is gorgeous.”