Northern New York Waterfalls
Waterfall Naming Project

For any geographic feature, be it a lake, a stream, a mountain or a waterfall, to have an official name, this name must be listed on the GNIS.  That is the Geographic Names Information System, a data base maintained by the Board on Geographic Names (BGN).  This committee is a division of the US Department of the Interior's United State Geologic Survey (USGS). 

Shortly after starting this website, we discovered that there were some waterfalls included in the data base that were smaller or lesser known than others that weren't included.  In the fall of 2016, we decided to rectify this by undertaking our Waterfall Naming Project. 

I wanted to start small to get a feel for the process.  I went looking for letters of support for three waterfalls in the Watertown, New York area.  One was in the city and the other two in the town.  I was born and raised there and after 39 years in St. Lawrence County, have returned to that area.  Starting here made sense because it was close to where I live in the event I needed to meet personally with someone during the process.

My first request went out in September.  Sometimes the wheels of government turn slowly.  I wasn't able to submit the first application until February 1.  The second one went in on February 3 and the third, not until late April.  Even then, I hadn't received all of the letters I requested.  Originally I contacted both US senators from New York and the representative in the House.  Those letters either never came or took forever, so I no longer reach out to them.

I have broken down this process into a number of steps ...

1  I contact the landowner asking for a letter of support.  In all requests, I provide a sample letter that they can cut and paste if they want to facilitate their efforts.  In the case of a waterfall that is on public land I move directly to step two.

2  I contact the town and county where the waterfall is located, requesting a letter showing their support.  In this request, I provide a copy of the landowner's letter to show that the owner is on board.  Although I have learned that these letters are all that are needed for the formal application, I usually also contact the NY senator and assembly member for that region with the same request.

3  When I have all of the above letters in my possession, I complete the formal on-line application attaching the letters of support.

4  Because the committee (BGN) meets quarterly, the next step is to wait until they contact me.  An initial email is usually received within a day or so of the application telling me that the application has been received and is being reviewed.  The final notification will come in about four months, but this can vary based on their schedule.

5  I then send a final "thank you" along with copies of the acceptance letter to all the parties that provided letters of support.

The above process is referred to as "by decision" because the BGN makes a decision based on the information provided in the application.  A second process, called "by policy" takes much less time.  Using this method, I have been able to directly contact a representative at the Board by email.  In the email I provide support, in the form of links to on-line info showing historical or other references, from government or historical websites.  If these references are sufficient, the waterfall is entered into the data base, often in as little as 24 hours.  I have to acknowledge Jennifer Runyon of the BGN office for her assistance.  She has taught me some very useful information about this process and has facilitated the applications I have submitted "by policy".  She is also my contact in that office for the formal applications I submit "by decision".

I refer to the first three applications submitted as Phase I of this project.  Once we get the results of Beaver Falls, this phase will be complete.  I have begun work on Phase II which includes four more falls in Jefferson County, twelve in St. Lawrence and eighteen in Lewis County.  I lived in St. Lawrence County for 39 years and am quite familiar with this and Lewis County.  There is also an on-line resource available to determine the property owners in these three counties.  Once the last of these applications have been submitted, it will be on to Phase III.  At this point, I am not certain which counties or waterfalls I will head to next, but eventually, I will cover whatever waterfalls qualify throughout the sixteen counties covered by this website.

The following waterfalls have been added as a result of this project:

Waterfall County Town Map Waterway Latitude Longitude BGN Date Entry Date By
Burrville Cider Mill Falls Jefferson Watertown Rutland Center Jacobs Creek N 43° 55' 48" W 75° 51' 33" 2/1/2017 5/11/2017 Decision
Great Falls Jefferson Watertown city Watertown Black River N 43° 58' 37" W 75° 54' 24" 2/3/2017 5/11/2017 Decision
Beaver Falls Jefferson Watertown Watertown Beaver Meadows Flow N 43° 57' 36" W 75° 57' 27" 5/9/2017
Catfish Falls Jefferson Clayton Clayton Chaumont River N 44o 08' 22" W 76o 04' 03" 5/23/2017 5/24/2017 Policy
Agers Falls Lewis Lyonsdale Port Leyden Moose River N 43° 37' 18" W 75° 18' 45" 5/27/2017 5/30/2017 Policy
Eagle Falls Lewis Watson Stillwater Beaver River N 43o 54' 19" W 75o 11' 48" 5/30/2017 5/30/2017 Policy
Whitaker Falls Lewis Martinsburg Glenfield Roaring Brook N 43° 44' 04" W 75° 26' 44" 5/30/2017 5/31/2017 Policy

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