Several residents urge county not to overexpand North Fork Preserve

IMG_2171_webSpace for both tent and RV camping. An equestrian center. Picnic areas. Restored tennis courts. A store selling firewood and ice.

These are all potential components of the North Fork Preserve under A conceptual site plan discussed at a public meeting Thursday held by the committee responsible for the planning of the 311-acre park, which was bought largely by Suffolk County from private hands in 2012.

But for some locals of the 30 or so who attended the North Fork Preserve Advisory Committee’s latest meeting, that list represents perhaps a bit too much ambition: they worry that with so many ideas and amenities, the Northville park could lose its peaceful, natural feel.

“I’m appalled at the level of developments being proposed for this parcel,” said Jamesport resident Richard Wines, who also serves as the chair of Riverhead Town’s Landmarks Preservation Committee. Riverhead Town kicked in $500,000 through its Community Preservation Fund toward the $19.5 million purchase price of the land in 2011.

“Those of us in Riverhead who pushed the town board to support this plan never envisioned this kind of development, particularly the high level of parking and RV parking.”

Under the conceptual plan, a 125-acre chunk of the property on the northern half would be designated for “passive-recreation purposes,” meaning no facilities would be installed and no space would be created for campgrounds or activity fields.

The southern portion of the parcel would be used for “active recreation,” so the prospective plan calls for areas to be cleared and used for a variety of purposes, including tent and RV camping, picnics, tennis and more.

“Unlike most of our other parks, there will be a division of tent camping and RV camping,” said advisory committee member Nick Gibbons, who is the principal environmental analyst for the Suffolk County Parks Department. “There will be some individual sites with privacy maintained to give the illusion that you’re in a bigger place”

A planned equestrian center falls on farmland to the west of the preserve that the county also manages, but riding areas would stretch through both the active- and passive- recreation areas.

NFPreserveHowever, none of those ideas for amenities were concrete, and the committee stressed that they wanted to hear which ones concerned residents so they could adjust the plans accordingly. Once the committee, which was formed last summer, makes formal recommendations to the county, the Parks Department will create a master plan and conduct an environmental review.

Baiting Hollow resident Steve Kuhl told the committee the plan “pleases [him] greatly,” but he would like to see the passive-recreation area extended further south to encompass more of the preserve.

“[The conceptual site plan] looks very busy,” he said. “I think that’s accurate — it’s an extremely ambitious property in a piece that we’re trying to preserve. Maybe it’s too ambitious. I’d like to see that passive recreation area expanded.”

Several residents voiced concerns about offering such significant camping opportunities, including dozens of RV spots, particularly since nearby Indian Island County Park and Wildwood State Park are popular destinations for camping.

“I think the area is saturated with campsites,” said Rocky Point resident Katie Kleinpeter. “Indian Island is just about a 10-minute drive away. Wildwood is very close to the west. I think the area does well enough with camping without a campsite here … I would like to see the whole park preserved and used as passive recreation.”

One man, David Lipman, defended the prospect of campsites. Campers bring in money to the area, he said, because they pay to stay overnight and because they frequent local businesses.

“It’s an economic boost for everybody in this room to open that campground and get campers in there,” he said.

Mr. Gibbons also clarified the hunting rules in the park: under the conceptual plan, bowhunting would continue to be permitted during its normal season from Oct. 1 to Jan. 31. However, no shotgun hunting will be allowed.

A total of eight hunters will be allowed to use the park at any given time, though they can hunt in any part of the preserve so long as they follow all rules regarding safe distances from buildings and others.

David Gale, a Northville resident, told the committee he is concerned about snowmobile use in the preserve.

“I think snowmobiles are basically four-wheelers,” he said. “Anything like that that whips around and digs up trails should be forbidden.”

Mr. Gibbons replied that the rules about snowmobiles are not yet completely planned, but he doubts they will be allowed in the North Fork Preserve.

The committee will be forming its full recommendations to the county “over the next several meetings,” according to Chair Nancy Gilbert, and those who were not able to attend the meeting are encouraged to submit letters with feedback.

Gwynn Schroeder, an aide to County Legislator Al Krupski, can be reached at [email protected] with comments or concerns.

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Photo caption: North Fork Preserve Advisory Committee member Nick Gibbons explains a map of the conceptual site plan. The top portion, shaded green, would be designated for passive recreation, while the bottom portion would be used for active recreation.