For more than 27 years, Kathryn Reiss has lived with the beauty and the wrath of Mother Nature. She began working at High Falls Gorge in Wilmington in 1992. Today she is president of the Adirondack attraction and of Roanka Attractions Corporation, which owns the venue.
Reiss has been involved with tourism her entire life. Her grandfather, Julian Reiss, founded Santa’s Workshop in 1949. Her father, Robert Reiss, started Roanka Attractions – the name includes the first two letters of his children’s names: Robert, Andrew, and Kathryn – that purchased the buildings and the steel bridges and walkways at High Falls Gorge in 1976.
Visitors have been enjoying the beauty of the gorge since 1890. In 1961, The High Falls Corporation, which owned the property at the time, entered into a 50-year lease with New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) to operate the attraction. At that time, the wooden structures inside the gorge were replaced with steel structures and bridges and the entrance building was constructed.
High Falls Gorge is a 22-acre property that features a half mile roundtrip self-guided tour that allows visitors to view four waterfalls. The gorge sits at the base of Whiteface Mountain and the anorthosite rock found there has been carbon dated back one and a half billion years. The gorge also has a large glacial erratic, which is a piece of rock carried and deposited by glacial ice moving through the area. Reiss explained that as the Wisconsin Ice Glacier receded, it scratched the surface of the rock leaving grooves that are still visible today. Also, on the property is a climax forest containing Eastern American Hemlocks that are more than 200 years old. The tree canopy is so dense the acidity of the needles from the Hemlocks has prevented much underbrush and other trees from growing up within the forest. To conserve the unique area Reiss works closely with arborists.
Visitors can also view the Ausable River, which flows through the gorge, through two glass-floored walkways during the summer season. Sturdy bridges, walkways and groomed walking trails provide safe access to breathtaking Adirondack views and scenic photographic vantage points where signage explains the natural history. There is an additional nature trail that climbs about 300 feet up Whiteface Mountain and a picnic area. It can take visitors under an hour for a quick tour of the gorge and up to a half day to explore all the attractions it has to offer. In addition to the outdoor activities, there is a gift shop and an on-site cafe that packs orders to go so visitors can enjoy them in the scenic picnic area. Reiss’ hope is that visitors appreciate “the beauty of nature and that it stimulates them to contemplate how it all came to be and to have more respect for the environment by the time they leave High Falls Gorge.”