How can a flame stay lit under a waterfall, even when it's half-frozen in the winter? That's a question many have been asking about the mysterious 'eternal flame' in western New York for years.

Eternal Flame Falls is in Shale Creek Preserve at Chestnut Ridge Park in the Buffalo suburb of Orchard Park. In a small cave at the bottom of a 35-foot waterfall, there's an 8-inch flame that defies all scientific explanation. Despite water all around it, the flame stays lit 'almost' year-round.

Many believe the flame was lit thousands of years ago by Native Americans but how it stays lit is anyone's guess. Scientists believed the fire burns because of gas pockets that rise from the old, extremely hot bedrock made of shale, according to "The rock's high temperatures break down the carbon molecules in the shale, which in turn creates natural gas."

However, Professor Arndt Schimmelmann says he and a group of scientists at Indiana University found the shale under the waterfall isn't hot enough or old enough.

“This flame and these seepages have occurred for millions of years in those areas and we know that the source rock, about 400 meters deep, is not very warm. It should not even be able to produce much gas at this temperature, yet the gas is coming and it’s not being depleted. So our hypothesis is that a different mechanism is responsible for continuous gas generation at depth.

So what IS keeping the flame lit? No one knows for sure.

Eternal Flame Falls was one of western New York's best-kept secrets. That was before media attention and improvements to the access trail led to an increased number of visitors. More visitors more litter, more vandalism, more pollution.

If you plan on making a trip to see the Eternal Flame Falls in Orchard Park, remember to respect the trails that can be slippery and dangerous, especially in the winter months. You'll need to wear proper hiking shoes. And don't forget a lighter. The flame sometimes goes out if it gets too windy. But hikers always have a lighter on hand to keep it going.

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Veteran TV anchor at WROC in Rochester, John Kucko, took a hike to Eternal Flame Falls to find a little serenity and encourages others to do the same. "Take a moment these next few days, find a babbling brook somewhere at a park and safely take a moment to soothe the soul. Immerse yourselves in nature if you can"

Before soothing the soul, you'll need to be extra careful hiking down. "Wore spikes on my boots," Kucko said. "Proceed with EXTREME caution."

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