Photos: Ezra’s Tunnel (If You’re Wondering What the Fuss is About)

Categories Environment, Ithaca, Politics

Words & Photos by Josh Brokaw

Ithaca’s Common Council will be voting tonight on whether a tunnel blasted into a hillside in the 1830s along Fall Creek should be gated off. The tunnel, called “Ezra’s Tunnel” for Ezra Cornell, who led the blasting efforts of a crew of poorer men forgotten by history, grants access to a stretch of Fall Creek above the big Ithaca Falls leading up to “Forest Falls.” The area has been the location of two Cornell students’ drowning deaths in the past six years.

Your correspondent has approximately 78 percent of a “hot take” on the subject completed — my stance is firmly anti-gate — but can’t summon up the sort of print-friendly brimstone to finish it off in the afternoons that I can access in the early morning hours. There will be plenty of opinions expressed tonight in City Hall anyway; show up like a good democratic citizen and make yourself heard! And send TruthSayers a report, even if we have one already!

For now, for those who have not made the trek down to the area in question, here’s some photographs shot on Monday afternoon by yours truly of Ezra’s Tunnel and Forest Falls.

This is the view of the tunnel from the west, after one scrambles down from the end of Willard Way or across the former Ithaca Gun factory property into the “raceway,” where water once flowed to power manufacturing along Fall Creek. The tunnel was not blasted for love; it was blasted to supply power to spinning wheels.

Ezra’s Tunnel, western entrance. December 6, 2017. Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

This is facing westward, from where it’s proposed a second gate will be placed to restrict access from the west across the Ithaca Gun area.

Graffiti in the raceway near Ezra’s Tunnel. December 4, 2017. Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

Facing eastward through Ezra’s Tunnel. There was a bottom board of the ramp you see there; it has disappeared in the last month or two.

Ezra’s Tunnel. December 4, 2017. Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

I’ve wondered whether this “Ithaca is Gorges” graphic was a professional job; did the tourism board pay for it for the benefit of flyover photography? This is the dam built out into Fall Creek, just outside the eastern mouth of the tunnel.

On the dam above Ithaca Falls. December 4, 2017. Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

The view east once you step outside of Ezra’s Tunnel. That’s the Stewart Avenue bridge, Forest Falls in the distance.

Fall Creek, Ithaca, New York. December 4, 2017. Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

Somewhat closer to the falls now; there’s lots of shale and other rock along the bottom here. When the creek gets higher, water makes its way among this rock field. On a related note, TruthSayers needs a staff geologist.

Fall Creek, New York. December 4, 2017. Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

Forest Falls. My guess is that the worst of the current is to your left when the water is high. But I don’t know! Because blanket prohibitions provide no useful information. That’s really the gist of my main problem with how the city and Cornell deal with “gorge safety” — there’s always a blanket statement about how swimming is illegal and dangerous. If “Just Say No” doesn’t work for drugs, it sure ain’t going to work for swimming on July day in a place this beautiful. Useful signage would be helpful, maybe, if it were put in terms that risk-taking youths can understand.

“If the creek is this high, it’s going to feel like you’re swimming with a Volkswagen on your back.”

Just an example.

Forest Falls, Ithaca, New York. December 4, 2017. Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

Looking westward from Forest Falls toward Ithaca Falls.

Fall Creek. December 4, 2017. Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers


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The entrance to Ezra’s Tunnel from the east. That’s the beginning of the dam on your right.

Ezra’s Tunnel. December 4, 2017. Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

One more, because it was in the camera.

Ezra’s Tunnel entrance. December 4, 2017. Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

Common Council meets tonight at 6 p.m., at City Hall, 108 E. Green St. As a citizen, you get three minutes to talk about whatever you want at the beginning of the meeting.

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Josh Brokaw is an independent reporter based in Ithaca, N.Y.

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Twitter: @jdbrokaw

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