In 2001, Joe Hollick promoted as many waterfalls as possible through posters he created and sold, titled “Waterfalls of Hamilton Seasons.” Hollick then partnered with Ecklund to promote the waterfalls on the website.
Eventually a waterfalls group, composed of representatives from the authority, the city, Tourism Hamilton, Bruce Trail Conservancy, Hamilton Naturalists’ Club and various waterfall enthusiasts, formed to oversee the development of the natural formations.
Mountain Coun. Tom Jackson, who is also on the Hamilton Conservation Authority, applauds Ecklund for his “wonderful promotion” of the waterfalls over the years.
The advertising and social media presence that highlighted the waterfalls created what Jackson calls a “nice problem” for the city and authority. The falls attracted tourists and other visitors to Hamilton and made residents aware of what was in their backyards, he said.
“Thousands of visitors came to the city, dispelling the notion of ‘Steel Town,’” he said.
But, said Jackson, the city wasn’t prepared to handle the carloads of people that arrived in Hamilton.
“The falls were not ready for the deluge of people,” said Jackson. “It was a blessing and a bane.”
For example, over a three-year period, Hamilton’s emergency personnel had to recuse a number of people from Albion Falls, including a few “tragic” fatalities. Jackson was instrumental in getting the city to install signs and fencing around Albion Falls to prevent people from falling into the gorge.
“People didn’t realize the impact of the danger there,” he said.
In 2016, a man in his 50s slipped and fell to his death while on an outing with his family. In February, a 21-year-old man suffered serious injuries after slipping on ice and falling more than 10 metres
After struggling to address the problem, in 2017 Jackson and the city established a two-prong approach to protecting the public, including heightened enforcement and installing fencing.
Ever since, there has been only one rope rescue from the area, said Jackson.
Jackson did get the two current platforms built at Albion Falls about a decade ago to provide the public with a photogenic view of the falls, at a cost of half a million dollars from the Hamilton Future Fund. The city also installed signs and reconstructed Mountain Brow Boulevard near the falls, in addition to wider sidewalks. And the parking lot has been expanded to accommodate additional vehicles.
The veteran councillor, though, acknowledges the conservation authority has taken a “collective pause” on any further improvements at the city’s falls.
“We are pulling back,” he said, until the city and authority can manage the attractions properly.
“We want to make them as safe as possible,” he said.
Hamilton Conservation Authority chair Lloyd Ferguson agreed with Jackson’s description of the organization’s plan for the falls. He said the authority right now wants to plan for the falls’ future before doing anything else.
Ferguson, who has seen Tiffany Falls in Ancaster attract hordes of people, hasn’t had the same difficulty as Jackson or Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark have had with Albion Falls or the Devil’s Punchbowl.
The authority had installed paid parking at the lot entrance to the falls.
The city established a shuttle bus service in 2017 for the public eager to attend the Spencer Gorge/Webster Falls area, as well as charging a parking fee and admission to the area.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Hamilton imposed strict measures, including issuing tickets to prevent the public from gathering at various waterfalls, especially Devil’s Punchbowl and Mount Albion. Recently, councillors approved imposing a $250 fine for parking on the road near Devil’s Punchbowl, following a similar fine that was allowed in Dundas and Greensville in an effort to curtail the public from gathering at the popular locations.
But issuing tickets and establishing parking fees isn’t a proper plan to promote the falls, said Ecklund.
“All we are doing is reacting to problems,” he said. “Why are we not taking action?”