Thomas Wolfe once wrote “You Can’t Go Back Home Again,” but I am happy to report this is not always the case. Recently, I took a trip back to my hometown of Orchard Park, New York and found that, while many things have indeed changed, one very important part of my childhood had not.
I speak of the astonishing paradise called Chestnut Ridge Park. It is one of the largest county parks in the United States, featuring 1,213 acres of forest, picnic areas, sledding hills and a magical eternal flame. The park offers year round activities and remains one of the few remaining links to a time when things seemed to make a little more sense.
No cost visit
The first thing you may notice is there is no cost to enter the park. There is no charge to risk life and limb hurling at break neck speed down huge hill on a toboggan run, or any of the other many activities one can take part in. There is a nominal fee to use one of the 36 shelters for family reunions or small picnics (some shelters can accommodate 150 people!), but they come with grills, picnic tables, nearby bathrooms and plenty of space to spread out.
You won’t find annoying sponsorship signs or a fast-food restaurant at the park, but you will find something for everyone.
You won’t find annoying sponsorship signs or a fast-food restaurant at the park, but you will find something for everyone. Picture a place where you can play softball, disc golf, tennis, run, walk, grill, bicycle and nap in the summer, and then sled, ski, snowmobile, and cross-country ski the many trails during the winter.
Worried about those infamous Buffalo winters? You can always spend your time in the grand “Casino,” a timber and stone structure built in 1938 that features two enormous fireplaces and picnic tables for plenty of room to savor hot chocolate while watching rosy faced children of all ages resting from a day sledding down the big hill.
And what a hill it is. On a clear day, you have breath taking views of the city of Buffalo, Lake Erie and Canada. During the summer months, one can sit on a swinging bench and watch the sunset, but the real fun happens during the winter months. The hill is broken into different sections. There is a 12 and under hill (to protect young children from people like myself who tend to have trouble steering). There is also a big kids area, and toboggan chutes that resemble the At-At Walkers from Star Wars. You climb some rickety stairs and then fly down the hill at roller coaster speeds.
Time stands still
Being at Chestnut Ridge Park feels like being in a Twilight Zone episode where time stands still. Picture yourself sitting next to a roaring fire with no television monitors showing CNN or Fox News. No annoying elevator Muzak blaring in your ear and no one rushing you to leave. Where else can find such isolation from electronic noise? Yes, you can still check your cell phone for emails, but why would you want to?
And, there is more; much more. Just down the road in a little used part of the park often referred to as the Shale Creek Preserve, is the entrance to trail that leads you to a rare natural eternal flame nestled behind a spectacular waterfall. You would think such a phenomenon would be closely protected by rangers, or park officials, but you would be wrong. One only encounters other families walking up the creek bed to see this astonishing sight.
What you won’t see are discarded candy wrappers or empty coke cans. You only see the footprints of those who came before (maybe there is some hope for the human race after all). So much is made of marvelous new wonders/technologies and how our lives are better for them, but I find it comforting to know that there is still a place that refuses to change.