On just the right winter’s day, you may be lucky enough to see the falls at Oglebay turn red, blue, or green when Wheeling resident Rich Greene turns the frozen falls into a temporary work of art.
Rich remembers where he first got the idea to add a little color to the frozen falls: from the back seat of his parents’ car he spied a frozen waterfall that had been dyed red and blue. He filed this idea away until he was in his 20s when he first started coloring the falls up at Oglebay. Even through college, he’d make the drive back to Wheeling on cold winter days to make his mark on the falls. The tradition continues and is one that Rich looks forward to every winter.
While Rich describes himself emphatically as “not an artist,” he has developed a process and technique over the years to bring color to the frozen falls. “Mother nature is in charge” he repeatedly said, as he describes his process with great specificity. Considering temperature, flow, and dilution, he’s developed a sensibility as to how the conditions will affect his coloring.
So, what does this process look like? Rich has to wait until the falls are frozen with just a slight trickle to help with color dispersion. He also still needs some water to mix up his “paint,” so he uses a pickaxe to break the ice. From there, he fills an empty milk jug with water and adds a bit of food coloring. Then, he shimmies out above the frozen falls and trickles the dyed water down over the edge. In the best years, he can stand underneath them and “touch up” his work from below.
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Over the years, Rich has enlisted the help of his family to carry out the tradition. “Let’s go to the creek” is what Rich says when he calls his kids to see who’s interested in joining him. He says they’ve been out already this winter, but the conditions haven’t quite been optimal. His daughter, Holly, is also quite proud of her father’s handiwork and shares pictures of his efforts on the popular Facebook group, Memories of Wheeling.1Rich said that his granddaughter is also keen on learning the family art form, having been out to admire the colored falls since she was a baby. “She’s very artistic,” Rich says of his granddaughter.
With some cold nights ahead, it might be time for the colorful transformation to take place. If getting out to the park isn’t part of your route, keep an eye out when you’re driving around. There seem to be others dedicated to this ephemeral art form, with multicolored ice appearing on the rock walls alongside Route 2 and I-70. Or, if all this talk about rainbow ice has you craving something cold and colorful, just head to the freezer and pick up some Zigenfelder’s Twin Pops.
Safety note: Waterfalls in all seasons can be dangerous. Rocks and ice are slippery, and the potential to slip and fall is great. For personal safety, as well as good environmental stewardship, it is advisable to stay on trail at all times.
1 “Memories of Wheeling, WV.” Facebook Group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/65886617812/
• Kate Wietor is currently studying Architectural History and Historic Preservation at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. She spent one glorious year in Wheeling serving as the 2021-22 AmeriCorps member at Wheeling Heritage. Since moving back to Virginia, she’s still looking for an antique store that rivals Sibs.