By Mia Summerson
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The wind was picking up and the waves were beginning to hit the shore with a little more force at the base of the Canadian Falls on Friday as Maid of the Mist employees were gearing up for the first day of the season.
Although the grey skies and the rain that might have been mistaken as mist from the giant waterfall overhead made for quite a gloomy day, it didn’t stop tourists from lining up to ride on the historical boat.
“We run in rain, snow, thunderstorms, whatever,” said Erin Arsenauld, who worked the ticket booth. “It’s the first day, we won’t get too many, but people will come out.”
She was right. A flood of tourists came through the ticket booth to be part of the first trip of the year, which set out at 10 a.m. As they entered, they were all smiles, despite the rain, which was steadily getting stronger.
After the passengers made their way from the ticket booth to the tent where they receive what Maid of the Mist Spokesman Kevin Keenan calls “those familiar, blue raincoats,” they all loaded into the boat forming a sea of blue plastic on the Maid’s two decks.
After the first boat of the day returned from its voyage the passengers exiting came back completely drenched, but most with a look of excitement on their faces.
There are currently four boats in operation, the Maid of the Mist IV, V, VI and VII. They run on both the American and the Canadian sides of the river.
According to Keenan, everything is in full swing and everyone is excited for the start of the 2013 season.
“After all the preparation everyone is anxious to get started,” Keenan said. “The focus is to provide a fun experience for everyone.”
This year marks the Maid of the Mist’s 176th season. In 2014, the company will lose the rights to launch its boats from the Canadian side when Hornblower Cruises of California takes over under a new agreement with the Niagara Parks Commission in Ontario.
“It’s so sad,” said Arsenauld who works on the Canadian side. “I love it here. That’s why I keep coming back. It’s a happy place, everyone is always smiling and you get to meet people from all over the world, and of course the Falls are beautiful.
“I’d like to get a job with Hornblower. I haven’t applied yet, but I’ll put in an application and see what happens.”
The Maid of the Mist Corp. is in the process of building a new boat storage facility on the American side of the Niagara Gorge. The controversial project has been met with resistance from Hornblower and the Niagara Preservation Group, a local non-profit group that initiated legal action in an effort to stop the project which it considers inappropriate and a potential threat to the historic site of the old Schoellkopf power plant.
Maid officials, who struck an agreement for the development of the new boat storage facility with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, are confident the company will be able to continue to operate beyond this year once the new facility is in place on the American side of . They expressed confidence Friday that the historic attraction will remain alive and in operation for years to come.
“They’re building a dry dock on the American side, right over there,” said Rod MacDonald, Captain of Maid of the Mist VII, as he pointed across the river to the site of the old Schoellkopf power station. “Starting next winter the boats will be housed there.”
Earlier this month, a state supreme court judge lifted an injunction against maid's construction project and work has resumed on the new dock. Both Keenan and the employees working down by the docks have a “business as usual” attitude about the whole thing, and there are no special plans in commemoration of the Maid’s last run on the Canadian side.
Keenan said the focus isn’t on what’s happening next season, it’s about making this season a good one.