The eternal flame, “100 steps” and a seven-acre lake are among the hidden treasures of Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park that the Chestnut Ridge Conservancy is dedicated to preserving, protecting and promoting.
Also among those treasures are five murals inside the casino, including three that stretch from the flagstone floor to the high beamed ceiling that were painted on the walls in 1948.
Through the years, they have become covered with dirt, grime and smoke from the fireplace.
The conservancy chose restoration of the murals as its first major project after the group was created several years ago.
Bernard C. “Ben” Feldman, a local artist who had worked for the Pullman Car Co., painted the murals inside the casino in 1948. Feldman painted the prize-winning poster for Buffalo’s Centennial in 1932, and later was commissioned to do goldleafing in various buildings in Buffalo.
The murals, once the focal point of the great hall, lower room and snack bar area, had all but faded into the woodwork over the years, until Eileen Sullivan of Aurora Art Restoration started to restore them.
It’s a laborious and costly process, and the conservancy has raised about half the money needed.
“We’re figuring about $40,000 for it,” said Ronald J. Michnik, a founding trustee of the conservancy.
Sullivan has fully restored one painting, “Skiers,” and is working on another. The group is looking for more donations to cover the cost of restoring the rest of the paintings.
“It’s amazing the dull color on them before,” Michnik said.
The fully restored mural depicts two skiers coming down the hill between pine trees, with a third at the top of the hill. Sullivan started working on the second, which depicts a cabin shelter. The line between the restored and unfinished work is striking. The cleaning process uncovered a fire in the fire pit.
“We never saw that before,” Michnik said.
Another large mural features four deer. There are two smaller ones in the snack bar area, one of two foxes in the snow and the other a large tree filled out with green leaves in summer.
The conservancy was created several years ago to work with Erie County to support the restoration and preservation of the natural, recreational and historic resources at the county park.
The conservancy also wants to restore the 100 steps. Originally constructed in the 1930s, the masonry steps reach from the top of a gorge to the bottom of Shale Creek. But over the years, amenities like the stairs have not been properly maintained.
The conservancy also would like to restore the baseball diamond near the Martin Lodge, as well as produce maps of all of the many hiking trails that help make the park famous.
“They exist, but there are no maps,” said Conservancy President John Bailey.
One of Michnik’s favorite ideas for the park is to obtain a snow-making machine for the famous sledding and toboggan hill. Relying on Mother Nature can be difficult, particularly this year.
“We had a blizzard last week, and today there’s no snow on the hills,” he said last week. “Here’s a fantastic asset that is not being properly utilized.”
To contribute to the restoration of the murals and the conservancy, visit the group’s website: www.chestnutridgeconservancy.org