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HAMILTON, ONT-If you're like a lot of Western New Yorkers, the only thing you know about Hamilton, Ontario, is that it's a city off the QEW you pass on the way to Toronto.

But if you love the outdoors, you're definitely going to want to make a trip to Hamilton! It's got some amazing green space, beautiful conservation areas, and great parks.

But the jewel in this crown of green are the city's waterfalls. It's called the "Waterfall Capital Of The World", and with good reason.

Hamilton is nothing if not a city of contrasts. If all you do is zip by on the QEW, you'll only be seeing the industrial section of the city, and it's none too pretty. But do a little exploring, and you'll be amazed to find a resplendent green environment!

Hamilton has the good fortune to be sitting right along the Niagara Escarpment, a 650 mile long ridge of elevated land that runs from Central New York to Wisconsin.

Its most famous natural landmark, is of course Niagara Falls, but Hamilton has some waterfalls that can compete with Niagara in both height and beauty...and it has a lot of them!

Chris Hamilton is Information Officer for the Hamilton Conservation Authority. "We have at present count, approximately 142 waterfalls that cross the escarpment in the city of Hamilton. Just in this West end, just in this area, the geographic area around the Dundas Valley, is about ten times the size of New York's Central Park, and that doesn't include the rest of the protected areas in the city of Hamilton. It really is a gem, and it is significant environmentally worldwide."

Ironically, it was the waterfalls that helped fuel early industrial development in the city. Hamilton tells 2 The Outdoors. "It was the power of water flowing over the falls that drew the mills in, and the mills created flour and paper. It was that industry here in the early 1800's that brought the rail here, which brought the roads here, which brought the steel industry to Hamilton."

Now much of the western part of Hamilton is a protected home to 25% of Canada's endangered species, but that's not all you can find in this remarkable environment.

"The ancient White Cedars in Hamilton, some are 500 years old, north, 1,400 years old, oldest old growth forest in Eastern North America," says Hamilton. "The United Nations recognized what we had done by protecting this area, having humans and wildlife living together in concert, and declared it a World Biosphere Reserve, one of 16 in Canada."

All that green abundance aside, it is the waterfalls that attract visitors from far and wide. "There's something sort of instinctual that draws us, almost hypnotic when you're standing in front of a waterfall, even here, the sound of rushing water, the image, I think it really brings sort of a sense of peace, and I don't know exactly what it is, but flowing water is something that really draws people."

The waterfalls' popularity has come with a price to this fragile ecosystem. The influx of tourists to the falls have put great stress on the habitat, and the city and the Hamilton Conservation Authority have gone to great lengths to find a level between ecology and economy in an effort to ensure the environment is protected for years to come.

"It's a matter of balancing your use of the area," says Hamilton. "So by redirecting certain groups that maybe like picnics, or maybe like canoeing, or want beach volleyball or whatever, we direct them to an area that's more suitable for that, and invite them to come here for more of a calm, quiet natural appreciation of the area."

And so, this green gem lies waiting for the adventurous to search its miles of verdant wealth. To explore the hidden beauty that both nurtures and defines the region.

"It's an ongoing process, and we've got a long way to go," says Hamilton. "But yes, we are very proud of the progress we've made, and you can see that with, again, here in the ninth largest city in Canada, we have such a huge abundance of green space, and beautiful natural areas, unlike any others in the country, or even the world."

A great website to learn more about these beautiful natural wonders is www.cityofwaterfalls.ca

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