ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Eternal Flame Trail at Chestnut Ridge Park is a very popular among hikers, but it can be tricky. On Thursday, 15-year-old Joshua Kuebler ventured off the trail and fell to his death, and that tragic accident is now shining the spotlight on safety for all who use that path.
The Eternal Flame Trail is only just over half a mile long, but it’s difficulty level is moderate – for good reason.
“It’s actually pretty steep in some sections,” said Kara Mather, who hikes the trail often, “And it’s very slippery when it’s wet, so it’s good to be careful.”
That’s a lesson learned the hard way all too often. Thursday’s fatal fall was the latest of several incidents on the Eternal Flame Trail in recent months. It was actually the second fall emergency responders were called to on Thursday alone. First, someone had to be rescued and taken to the hospital after falling while trying to swing on a rope. Then, two hours later, the call came in for a recovery mission after the 15 year old fell.READ MORE | Teen falls to his death at Chestnut Ridge Park.
“I think that’s absolutely horrible. It shocks me,” Mather said when she learned about the fatal fall.
Hikers in Chestnut Ridge Park on Friday said the tragic accident really has them thinking about their own safety now.
“You just don’t know what’s out there. you don’t know what your footing is going to be in some areas. so it’s best to stay on the trail where it’s all been prepared for your safety,” Coggins said.
“It does surprise me,” said another hiker, Will Coggins. “You know, you just have to be careful out here.”
Local first responders say everyone just needs to be smart when they’re hiking.
“Know your limitations. Don’t be coming out here if this is your first time out doing hiking since the winter time. Common sense,” said Dan Neaverth, the Erie County Emergency Management Coordinator.
Officials also urge hikers to travel in groups and use the buddy system, and carry a cell phone with you so you can call for help if anything goes wrong.
The most critical bit of safety advice, though, is to follow the posted rules. “Stay on the designated trails at all times” is the first rule listed on the sign at the trail head.
The Erie County Sheriff’s Office has committed horse-mounted deputies to patrol the trails and enforce the rules. They have the power to write tickets for hikers who venture off the designated paths.