One might wonder how Nik Wallenda can top walking along a wire over Niagara Falls and then the Grand Canyon.
But the only human known to accomplish both feats has a few more ideas before he hangs up his tightrope for good – walking between two New York City skyscrapers and then over a live volcano. And don’t forget the Erie County Fair.
That’s right, even as Wallenda makes plans for ever more dangerous stunts, he remains focused on Western New York. He calls the area his “second home” and the place where his worldwide fame really took off.
“There’s a piece of my heart here forever,” he told The Buffalo News on Wednesday. “My career was building, but Niagara Falls changed the ball game. That’s why I feel … I don’t know if indebted is the word, but I feel like I owe this area.”
He received a call recently from officials at the fair looking to do something big for next year’s 175th anniversary. In their minds, no one comes bigger than Wallenda for drawing a crowd.
The famed aerialist next year plans to walk from one end of the fair to the other – from a crane above a Ferris wheel near South Park Avenue all the way to a crane near McKinley Parkway – with a crowd below.
“At dusk, just when the sun is setting, we’re going to get the rides going as fast as we can, and all the lights and sounds and the distractions of one of the largest traveling midways in the country, and he’ll end up right in our grandstand,” said Marty Biniasz, entertainment director for the fair.
Wallenda rode atop the Ferris wheel at the fair Wednesday to scope out sights and nail down details for next year’s walk.
And as he strolled down that bustling midway, Wallenda and his death-defying feats remained fresh in the minds of Western New Yorkers.
“Thank you for what you did,” Carol Taradena of Alden said as she anxiously waited for an autograph. “It was amazing. Awesome. I’ll never forget it.”
Taradena showed up at the fair Wednesday decked out in Nik Wallenda gear, from her King of the High Wire T-shirt to the newly published book she brought for Wallenda to sign.
Taradena had her 9-year-old granddaughter in tow – she bought her a Wallenda poster – but it was clear from her expressions that grandma was the true fan of the group.
“Wow!” she said after hearing about Wallenda’s plans to walk at the fair next year. “I’ll be here for that.”
Wallenda stole off to the fair Tuesday night on an unofficial visit, donning a pair of sunglasses and trying to remain inconspicuous.
But the disguise did not work.
“I must have been stopped 40 times by people wanting to congratulate me and say hello,” he said. “I knew that Buffalo loved me, and the Niagara region, but wow, they truly do.”
Hundreds of fans crowded the Historical Society building to catch a glimpse of the daredevil, jockeying for position with their cameras drawn.
The daredevil from Sarasota, Fla., said he actually has a connection to the fair.
After arriving in Hamburg Tuesday, Wallenda recognized the sprawling fairgrounds as the place he performed with his family as a young boy.
“I said, ‘Dad, I think I’ve been here before,” he said. “I used to open the show, and I remember saying, ‘Welcome to the Erie County Fair.’ Once I got here, it all came back to me.”
But he might have related to fairgoers around here best when he was asked to name his favorite food at the fair.
After searching for an answer, he quipped, “Fried butter.”
“And my wife’s not here to keep an eye on me, so I’ll be eating a lot of it,” he added.
While in town, Wallenda also will have a few meetings in the Falls to plan for a permanent attraction he hopes to establish in the next few years.
He said he wants to open a hotel or museum that would resemble a Great Wolf Lodge and include a performance space and possibly even an indoor waterpark just steps from the falls.
“I have every intention of doing it,” he added, “but it’s just talking to people to put it together.”
As for his next big stunt, Wallenda said he is already making plans for a walk between two skyscrapers in New York City.
He was reminded that the police chief in New York has already thrown cold water on such a stunt.
“Some people said no to Niagara Falls, too,” he said.
Wallenda then revealed his dream to walk over a live volcano.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. ‘What’s next? How do you top that? How do you do more?”
But the King of the High Wire acknowledged that even he has limits he might have to pay attention to someday.
“With what I do, it’s when do you push it too far,” he said. “There’s a point when it’s time to retire, and it’s hard to retire.”
But with the fair, New York and maybe even a volcano calling, closing time has not arrived yet.
“There’s a few more things on the list I want to do,” he said. “I’ve had people say, ‘We’re battling cancer and we’re going to keep fighting because you did that, you conquered that.’ When I see things like that, that’s when I know what I’m supposed to be doing.”