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Eternal Flame Falls: Nature Burning Brightly | News

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Eternal Flame Falls: Nature Burning Brightly
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In a region with more than its share of natural beauty...from the incredible power of Niagara Falls...to the great splendor of Letchworth Gorge, perhaps the most fascinating is one that is not so immense.

Tucked deep within Chestnut Ridge Park, the Eternal Flame Falls is really just a simple natural phenomena, a natural gas leak underneath a waterfall that just happens to be burning. It's not even really "eternal" in the sense that the flame is always there.

Sometimes it goes out, and has to be re-lit by the next hiker that finds it extinguished. But hike back to the flame, trek the quiet green trail that leads back into this hidden wonder, and you will soon understand why this location is revered by those who know it.

Jay Burney is an Environmental Activist and knows the flame well.

"It's one of the few remaining natural areas that we find on our planet, in our region," says Burney. "It was once called the Shale Creek Preserve, and it was run by the Buffalo Museum Of Science, and it was designated a wild area, and we're lucky to have forefathers that put this kind of place aside for us, and this place in particular is very special."

The land surrounding the falls is just as beautiful and is home to fragile species like the Pink Ladyslipper Orchid and the all but vanished American Chestnut.

But it is the flame, burning brightly under the cascade of water, that seems to embody the spirit of nature that gives the spot its almost sacred feel.

It is said that the falls may be the only one of its kind on the planet, all the more reason for it to be preserved.

"A lot of people don't get to experience the outdoors because we don't have many places left like this," says Burney. "This is a place where you can go and you can become tranquil, you can enjoy nature, you can learn about nature, and you can be outdoors, and you can really experience what it is to be a part of nature."

So here's the question: Why was Erie County trying to put part of a frisbee golf course in an area that's so pristine and so unique, an area we should be trying to protect.

The frisbee golf course was approved by the Collins Administration and had actually been partially constructed on the land surrounding the falls. Some trees had already been felled, and the health and serenity of the place was threatened. Fortunately, a number of concerned citizens took notice and action. Burney was one of those citizens.

"There was no public scrutiny when it was first put in, there was no accountability. It was done by private interests under a privatization method. Luckily the new administration has said, we need more scrutiny and accountability."

Troy Schinzel is the new Erie County Parks Commissioner.

"There was no executed contract, there was a resolution from the board authorizing them to move forward, but there was no executed contract," says Schinzel. "Then there was no formal SEQR review, in a sense, an environmental impact statement done on the site, that has to be done with things of this nature."

The new Parks Commissioner took a close look at the situation, and the decision was reversed.

"Within a few days and weeks of hearing people complaining about it, there was an informal decision to stop it," says Burney. "Subsequently, the infrastructure that was there, platforms, some chains for the golf holes, and some signs have been removed."

"It should never have gotten to that point," says Schinzel. "That's the unfortunate thing...because it's a lot of volunteer wasted hours for the group itself, which, I said has done a nice job in other areas. For the people who did oppose it, it's heart pounding in getting involved, and it's unfortunate because really none of that had to happen if the formal process had been followed."

Fortunately for all of Western New York, this natural wonder will remain unspoiled for future generations to enjoy.

"We have, I think, a responsibility to be good stewards of these areas," says Burney. "One of the ways to become better stewards is to go out and really understand what we have, so that you can talk about what we have, and you can make up in your own mind why it's important to protect these areas."

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