Concerns are growing that the historic structures at Old Fort Niagara could be at risk of damage from Lake Ontario's flood waters. The fort is located in New York at the mouth of the Niagara River, where it meets the lake.
This week, the staff at Fort Niagara noticed several trees were missing from the bank, just east of the fort. On closer investigation, they determined that rising waters and winds caused a portion of the embankment to collapse into the lake, taking the trees with it.
"It’s erosion, but the term 'erosion' sort of implies a gradual process. This was sudden," said Executive Director Robert Emerson.
He says the park’s popular French Castle sits about 10 feet from a sea wall. That’s only thing protecting it from the harsh waves and wind.
The wall stands about 30 feet tall. And this week, the water was just a few inches away from the top of the lower section. The upper section of the wall is made of stone. If the waves reach the upper section, it could start to erode.
Emerson says the French Castle is the oldest building in the Great Lakes region, and the core of the historic site.
"It was built by the French in the 1726," he said. "It’s an architectural gem. Generations of people have come here and we don’t want to be the ones to lose it. It needs to last centuries longer, it needs to last."
But, battling the water isn’t something new.
"It’s been an ongoing struggle against the lake for generations," Emerson said. "Even when the French were here, in the 18th century, they were complaining about the lake shore eroding."
But at the time, he says, there was about 90 more feet of ground between the castle and the lake.