This past Sunday was a nice day, with mild temperatures and just a little overcast. The leaves are just starting to turn, and I had not gone out all week.
We both wanted to be outside, so we started tossing out places to go walking. The Gorge Trail is always lovely, Beaver Island and Buck Island parks are both ready standbys, but I have been thinking of snowshoes with the onset of a more fall-ish climate. Last winter, we went to a county park, Chestnut Ridge, to see about sledding, but it was closed then. However, while we were driving around the park, we saw several people snowshoeing on trails there, so we decided to check it out.
As I was investigating further, I discovered that the Eternal Flame we have heard about since we got here is at Chestnut Ridge. This sealed the deal, and our destination was decided.
We packed our picnic backpack with some cheese and crackers and a bottle of wine, put our chairs in the car, and headed out. It was about noon when we left.
Chestnut Ridge is about a half-hour away, and I chose the route that took us along the Niagara River and Lake Erie. We love to see the water, and I still pinch myself that we live so close to so much of it. After spending most of our lives in Oklahoma, trees, cool temperatures, and an abundance of water all around take some getting used to!
As we drove, we decided to go check out the Eternal Flame first and then find a place to picnic and maybe walk some of the other trails around as well.
The entrance for the Eternal Flame trail is a little south on 277 of the main park entrance. There is a large gravel parking lot on the west side of the road, and when we got parking, there was no issue even though several cars were in the lot.
The trailhead is well marked, with a map showing all the trails available, which are several. As you start from the trailhead, the trail is gravel. It is not gravel for long, though. Entering the forest, the path quickly transitions to dirt. Walking is easy but many roots, large and small, lie across it, so paying attention is essential.
We hadn’t walked too far in before we found ourselves in what seemed to me to be an almost enchanted forest. Most of the woods I have walked in have been narrow bands of trees or broader expanses of trees but without a great deal of height. These trees were tall, old, and a mix of conifers and deciduous, mostly maple from the carpet of leaves on the ground. The light filtered down to the floor and punctuated the colors of the leaves which had fallen there. The breeze through pine needles has always been one of my favorite sounds. I had to stop and just settle a minute to take it all in.
The trail from the trailhead to the Eternal Flame is generally downhill. But, in some places, it gets steep, and concrete block steps have been put in, or tree roots form a stair for short patches. The trail is well marked with numbered blazes nailed to trees roughly every hundred feet and at every turn in the path.
Eventually, a bit more than a quarter-mile perhaps, you come to the creek you must follow to get to the flame. This creek is broad and has a shale rock bottom, and when we were there, the water was not deep. It is possible to get to the flame without getting your feet wet, but the trails on the sides of the creek can be slanted, somewhat muddy, and slick. When we were there, we walked more along the creek bed than on the trail, stepping back and forth over the water as we went. Large trees have fallen across in some places, and you need to get over, under, or around them. Nothing about this is too difficult, but you do need good shoes and to be prepared. I had not done enough research on it myself, and so we were a bit surprised. Had we known differently, Mireille would probably have worn different shoes.
The flame itself is relatively small, but with the water flowing down from above, over and around it, it’s something worth experiencing. This experience takes in more senses than most sights you might visit. As you near the flame, you can smell the gas that has been burning for who knows how long?
When we were there, several parties were in line to take selfies in front of the flame, and we were no different. A lovely man happened to be there and offered to take pictures for all of us as he rested for the trip back. It is a wonderful place, and when you go, I encourage you to take some time and look around. Here, layer upon layer of shale stretches up thirty or forty feet above. Think about how much time that represents! Another example, a tree to the right of the flame seems to be growing right out of the rock. It’s incredible to me how “life finds a way,” as Ian Malcolm asserts in “Jurassaic Park.”
Getting out is the same as getting in, only uphill. The trail is not narrow or constrained, so you can step off to the side and take your time if you get winded, but after we got back to the car, Mireille told me that Siri said it was equivalent to climbing ten flights of stairs. It is just a little over a mile round trip. It’s an “interesting” but not taxing walk. Just bring a bottle of water along, especially if it’s hot, and use your head.
Back in the car, we drove to the main entrance of Chestnut Ridge Park, which is just a bit North on 277 from where we were parked. There we drove around inside the park, checking things out before finally deciding to take our picnic on the sledding hill. As I said, it was a slightly overcast day. Still, the view of the trees, downtown Buffalo, even to Niagara Falls was beautiful. So we sat and ate our cheese and crackers and drank our wine. The breeze from the West cooling us off from our walk as we looked through our binoculars to try and figure out what the buildings were we were looking at in the distance.
It was a great day, and Chestnut Ridge is a great find! Now to actually break down and buy some snowshoes!