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Chestnut Ridge Park trail still popular after fatal fall

Despite the death of a Hamburg teenager Thursday night at Chestnut Ridge Park, hikers had no reservations about taking to the trails in Orchard Park on a clear, sunny day Friday.

Joshua Kuebler, 15, fell into the ravine off the Eternal Flame Trail about 6 p.m. Thursday, after being separated from family and friends. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, the exact series of events leading to Kuebler’s death remain unclear.

“We may never know what happened,” Erie County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Scott Zylka said Friday. “It doesn’t appear that there was witness to what happened. It’s just a tragedy at this point.”

Zylka said Kuebler had left the trail before falling into the ravine.

His death followed a separate incident, when a man fell into the ravine at the same trail after attempting to swing across it on a rope to impress friends. The unidentified man was hospitalized.

Thursday’s death did not discourage local residents Gary Herrnreiter and Brenda Myc, who spent their holiday hiking through Chestnut Ridge Park searching for edible mushrooms.

“The Flame is somewhere that a lot of people like to go, and it’s basically fairly safe as long as you know what you’re doing,” said Herrnreiter, a veteran hiker who frequents the park. “If you follow the trails the right ways, you’re going stay out of trouble. It’s when people try to do things like climb up on the cliffs, they can get hurt.”

Still, Thursday’s incidents unnerved potential trail-goers.

Jim Oc and Jeanne Kopinski said they were exercising by the toboggan runs because Kopinski was afraid of the trails through the park.

“(The news) said the ground is unsteady because of the rain. It makes sense,” Kopinski said. “It’s the ground, it’s always moving, changing.”

Oc said as long as hikers take the proper precautions, the park is a safe and beautiful place to be.

“They’re trails. It’s woods,” Oc said. “Use the proper precautions, use your wisdom and be with a partner all the time.”

The half-mile Eternal Flame Trail is considered somewhat difficult to hike because of its steep inclines and a danger due to its close proximity to the ravine. The trail, however, has become popular with hikers of all levels of experience, and they don’t want to see it affected by the recent accidents.

The Sheriff’s Office has already added mounted patrols to the area. Some hikers Friday that they hope the tragedy does not impact trail accessibility.

“I’m afraid it’s going to ruin it for the rest of us,” said Vicky Cascio, who was about to take a nearby trail with her husband, John, and son, Vincent. “I’m here 12 months a year, and that’s what I’m scared of – that they’re going to close it.”

Zylka said the biggest dangers on the trail occurs when hikers simply leave it.

“Be safe,” he said. “Stay on the trails.”

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