NIAGARA FALLS – When Angela Berti got her job as a state park public affairs coordinator here, with an office view of the bridge her grandfather Joe helped build, it was a thrill to tell him.
“He was elated,” she said, remembering how as a child he loved to tell his family about the things he helped build in his job as a construction worker. Whenever they passed the now-defunct Native American Center called “The Turtle,” still on Rainbow Boulevard, he loved to joke that he had brushed the “teeth” on the turtle head.
Now after six years working on public relations for state parks in the “Western District,” her connection to the city has deepened, as her own experiences with this famous tourist city pile up. Her projects have ranged from last summer’s international media convergence for Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk across the falls to Canada to coordinating the stop Blackhawks hockey player and Buffalo native Patrick Kane made on the day he got to spend with the team’s Stanley Cup and arranging the wedding episode of the TV show “The Office.”
One of her biggest on-the-job surprises was how moving Wallenda’s walk was. She was among the people doubting whether the June event, with its protracted negotiations of terms and conditions, would really happen.
“That was by far one of the most daunting and exhilarating tasks I’ve ever had to perform at this job,” said Berti, who feels a strong Niagara County connection even though she lives in Buffalo.
What was hard about Wallenda’s walk?
When we got news that it was going to be happening and we looked at the short turnaround time for that, it seemed insurmountable. It was announced Feb. 15 that it was happening. We didn’t get a date of the event until, I believe, it was May 2. So looking at what had to be done in such a short time frame was daunting. We all huddled together.
What was your job?
I was in charge of credentialing the media. Dealing with media from around the world was amazing … Trying to turn our pretty natural park into a media center. For 24 hours it was the center of the universe for the media around the world. The next morning every newspaper around the world had a mention of it.
It was personally gratifying to know that I had a hand with that.
What was it like to watch?
We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We had been so absorbed in the planning of it that we had never stopped to think about what it was. So when he finally got on that wire, we were all blown away by what we had done as a team and what Nik had accomplished.
What was another highlight?
I stayed in the city that night. I didn’t really sleep. I was really wound up and excited. So I got up at about 6 a.m. I was walking back into the park, and there was a coffee vendor who had set up for the week leading up to the walk, and he was from Kenmore. And I stopped to buy a coffee and asked him how business had been during the event ... We both sat there with tears in our eyes. To me it was really like a new day.
I was just thinking of the hope that the community felt and the excitement that the community had that day. Being part of something that was such a global event.
I’m tearing up thinking about it. Whenever I tell the story I tend to tear up. It was just really meaningful on so many different levels. The primary one for me, just most intimately, how the park staff came together.
That morning, the guy cutting the grass had a spring in his step I had never seen before.
We were having an issue running all the cables for the media and so one of our carpenters worked above and beyond, and fashioned the cable cover. And came over to Terrapin Point to install it. (That’s the one on Goat Island. That’s the Horseshoe Falls.) He just said he hadn’t been out to Terrapin Point in years and was happy to be a part of the activity.
Just little stories like that. The teamwork. The joy we all got out of working toether was probably my number one takeaway.
With Niagara Falls getting about 8 million visitors a year, why is this kind of exposure important?
We’re a natural attraction. We compete for people’s attention, vacation dollars. We have to compete with places like Disney, the Grand Canyon, Europe. All those places where people have money to spend.
We have a really small budget compared to what Disney has ...
The Maid of the Mist ride is unlike any ride at Disney. It’s real and it’s authentic. Cave of the Winds, where you can stand on the Hurricane Deck, where you can stand directly beneath the Falls…
The time NHL player Patrick Kane brought the Stanley Cup to the Falls was another experience that moved you?
You get a day with the cup to do anything you want with the cup. He did this in August 2011.
He felt like coming to Niagara Falls was a way to honor his family and his roots as a Western New Yorker.
That was another day when I cried. I’m a big wuss. I’m a huge hockey fan. He had his entire family with him. His friends that he had grown up with ...
Staff in the Cave of the Winds has a break room down there, and there are a bunch of guys who adore hockey. So they had fashioned, out of tin foil, a little Stanley Cup that they had sitting on the table in the break room. And so before Patrick went back up to see the public who had come to see him, he went into that break room with the Stanley Cup to change his clothes and dry off and he set the cup on the table next to this little foil Stanley Cup, and I just kind of teared up thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, the Stanely Cup is in these guys’ break room, how exciting for them.’ It was exciting for me, for those guys, to have the Stanley Cup in that fishy smelling damp break room. Those guys work there all day, so it’s kind of their place to hang.
I look out my window and see a bus full of Asian tourists or Indian tourists. So many of those people have probably saved money their entire lives to come here and get a glimpse of this wonder in our backyard.
I think, all too often, we take it for granted and we save the Falls for special occasions and when “Aunt Betty” visits.
Instead of saving it for those special occasions, I really wish that people would come and enjoy the Falls year-round and take advantage of what we have here.
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