Erie County has a new Ranger Program aimed at improving safety and educational opportunities in county parks. While the program has been in the works for a while, it follows a number of accidents on the Eternal Flame Trail at Chestnut Ridge Park earlier this year, including one that took the life of a 14-year-old boy.
WBFO's Cheryl Hagen spoke with County Parks Commissioner Troy Schinzel about the county's plans to boost safety and enhance park visits.
Erie County has hired three employees for a new Park Ranger Program. Parks Commissioner Troy Schinzel notes a supervising ranger and two park rangers are based out of Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park.
"Their job is ever evolving," notes Schinzel. "They're already deeply involved with a lot of safety aspects, not only at the Eternal Flame (Trail), but other parks throughout Erie County."
Schinzel says the county park system is made up of 10,000 acres that include not only parks, but beaches, golf courses and forestry lands.
The rangers have already initiated guided tours along the Eternal Flame Trail, which Schinzel says improves safety and adds another level of expertise
"They have great environmental backgrounds, ecology, geology. They started some guided tours along the Eternal Flame walk, to the Eternal Flame, which will generally help the public, not only from the safety standpoint about staying on the trail and designated trails, but also the Eternal Flame itself. Some of the things a lot of people that visit it may not know."
Aside from the tours, Schinzel says the rangers check the trail routinely to ensure things are as they should be. He adds the county has installed additional signs and maps for safety purposes.
"We've created as many safety aspects to a wilderness area, with a deep ravine, as we possibly can," notes Schinzel. "Safety is number one, but to be honest as long as you use common sense when you're visiting our park areas and follow the posted rules and regulations, there's a high probability everything will be fine."
"We've had some incidents at the Eternal Flame. This year has been the worst year," says Schinzel. "I think it has a lot to do with a false sense of security. It's in Orchard Park, what could be wrong. It also has to do with we're kind of a victim of our own success. There's absolutely more people going to the Eternal Flame now than any other time before. With thousands of more people visiting that area during the course of the year, obviously there's an increase in the probability that things can potentially go wrong."
Schinzel says the rangers will go to peace officer training, adding another layer of security to the parks. He's hoping to be able to expand the program down the road.