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JUNE 17 - JUNE 25, 2014

Jet boat battle on lower Niagara heats up as tourism hits stride

By Mike Hudson

June 17, 2014

Niagara Jet Adventures boat (above) is quiet. Whirlpool Jet boats (below) are ultra loud.

With the "Battle of Niagara Falls" currently underway between Jimmy Glynn's Maid of the Mist tour on the American side and the sleek Hornblower Yachts sailing from the Canadian shore, the nautical competition for tourist dollars in the Niagara Basin has never been keener.

But downriver, on that broad expanse of relatively calm water separating Lewiston (U. S.) from Queenston, Ont., another battle is brewing. Since 1992, Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours has operated a one-hour tour that culminates with a plunge into the Devil's Hole Rapids.

For 21 years Whirlpool Jetboat Tours had the downriver tour boat business to themselves, much like Glynn's Maid of the Mist monopolized the falls' tours.

Since the fleet was launched, it has carried 1.5 million passengers between its base at Niagara-on-the-Lake to the rapids and the Whirlpool.

That monopoly was broken this year by an upstart Youngstown-based outfit owned by Mike Fox of Fox Fence and Chris Bohnenkemp of Boise, ID, known as Niagara Jet Adventures.

The two entrepreneurs made headlines on April 27, 2013, with an unannounced excursion along the Lower Niagara River, past the Whirlpool and the treacherous mile stretch of "Himalaya" rapids, to within 100 yards of the falls. It was a trip that had not been made since the legendary "Master Hero of the Niagara," Red Hill Sr., did it some 90 years earlier.

Critics viewed it as a stunt but Fox insisted that the trip was intended to demonstrate how safe their boats were. Fox told reporters the Niagara Jet Adventure boats were successful in negotiating the dangerous whitewater of the Snake River in Idaho months before being brought to the Niagara.

Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours president, John Kinney said he knew nothing of the dramatic voyage until the parks police called him that morning suspecting one of his vessels was making a trial run. Out of an overabundance of caution, Kinney's jet boats never proceed beyond the Whirlpool.

Kinney is hoping that the 2014 season does not bring his Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours the sort of negative publicity it endured when three teenage passengers were swept overboard and into the lower Niagara rapids in 2012.

Kinney's Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours have also endured waves of criticism over the years from residents of Lewiston and Queenston, the Niagara River pleasure boating community and area environmentalists associated with the Sierra Club, who say that the older vessels are noisy, pollution prone, and create large wakes that can be dangerous to those sailing nearby in smaller craft.

Lewiston resident Jerry Williams has been an outspoken critic of the operation.

"The shoreline is eroding and it will likely collapse on our side of the border just like it did on the Canadian side of the border," he said. "We need better controls over the operations; we need someone to take a look at what is going on in our river from an independent angle."

Steve Kassay, also of Lewiston, agreed.

"We are not a fan," said Steve Kassay, a resident who lives on North Water Street. "It's noisy, it is eroding the shoreline and it can't be good for the wildlife."

For his part, Kinney maintains he is unconcerned about the criticism.

"There will always be some element of the community that has a different view of the world and again that's their prerogative," Kinney said. "If they want to say Whirlpool Jet Boat stinks to high heaven I have 1.5 million people who disagree with that. They think visiting the Niagara Region and riding on the jet boat is a way to spend their tourism dollars."

Classy Niagara Jet Adventures owner Mike Fox is ready wth his quiet boats to take on the classless owner of the Whirlpool Jet boats, a man with so little regard for his neighbors, he inundates the river with his ultra loud boats

Fox says his Niagara Jet Adventure boats are specifically designed to avoid such criticisms. The new tour boats are quieter and create less wake making them more environmentally sensitive than the older style boats that are currently running Whirlpool tours.

The boats are 33 feet in length. They have three separate power sources that when combined result in 1650 horsepower. They were specially designed for the swirling torrents and world-class, white water rapids of the Niagara River and the safety and comfort of passengers.

Because there is an indoor cabin and an outdoor deck, riders have the choice of seeing the wondrous scenery either wet or dry.

The cost for the standard, wet, one-hour Whirlpool Jet Boat ride round trip from Lewiston is $61 for adults and $51 for children, exactly the same prices as the Niagara Jet Adventure tour.

Unlike the Whirlpool Jet Boats, however, Niagara Jet Adventures plans on operating all year around since its boats are heated.

With Hornblower Yachts debuting its improved tour boat service at the falls and Niagara Jet Adventures doing the same in the lower rapids, 2014 will likely go down as a banner year in the history of maritime tourism on the mighty Niagara River.





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