Rob Holmes uncovers that for six months in 1969, Niagara’s American Falls were “de-watered” while engineers surveyed the falls’ rock face for erosion. But it didn’t stand idle:
For a portion of that period, while workers cleaned the former river-bottom of unwanted mosses and drilled test-cores in search of instabilities, a temporary walkway was installed a mere twenty feet from the edge of the dry falls, and tourists were able to explore this otherwise inaccessible and hostile landscape. …. A riverbed, in other words, became an ephemeral public park, though as by-product of a potentially colossal geo-re-engineering project. The authorities even installed temporary interpretative signage explaining the Fall’s geology to inquisitive visitors.
Without consideration of the practicalities: lower the Hudson for a month, and hold a rock-climbing festival along new cliffs, the competitors scrambling up Hartland Schist in the mist of spray-emitters stabilizing the rocky banks. Let loose the dammed power-lakes of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and hold Bonnaroo on the muddy bottom of Harrison Bay, temporarily un-flooded.
Instead of recognizing rivers as voids, we perceive them them as public park possibilities, rich with potential in another context. As Treib pointed out, disturbances allow us to see the value in what is there. The value of presence is sometimes in its absence.