The most feature-rich county park to date is being planned for a portion of land off of Sound Avenue in Northville.
The park, which is still in its infancy planning stages, would include at least 100 campsites, a possible equestrian center, a clubhouse, courts for volleyball, tennis and basketball, a camp store and the only seasonal cabins on parkland anywhere on Long Island, according to a conceptual plan presented last night.
“As camping interests and use have evolved, some of our [current] campsites are frankly quite tired and don’t lend themselves to preserving that experience,” said Nick Gibbons, principal environmental analyst for the Suffolk County Parks Department. “We have an opportunity here to do things in a different way.”
Suffolk County acquired the North Fork Preserve in 2011 with ambitions to transform the property into the county’s last large-scale park. All five of the county’s other formal parks were developed in the 1970s, and none of them has all the features proposed at the plan’s presentation last night.
“These kinds of things weren’t contemplated 40 years ago when our other campgrounds were established,” Gibbons said during his presentation at Cornell Cooperative Extension, where a committee heard concerns from local residents and neighbors.
One major focus of the plan is maintaining enough privacy between the campsites – whether they are traditional sites for tents, spaces for RV parking, seasonal cabins or three-sided lean-to’s.
“You have the illusion that you’re in a bigger place than you actually are,” Gibbons said. “This really lends itself to a more rural experience.”
The property’s 126 northern acres, which are regulated wetlands, would be preserved for passive recreational purposes such as hiking or bow hunting. Only eight bow hunters would be allowed on the property at a time.
The southern 175-acre parcel will be developed for active recreation, which includes the campgrounds and a host of other features, though Gibbons emphasized that the plan is designed to make the best use of open areas that have already been cleared.
While drawing up the model of the new park, Gibbons and his team took into consideration the existing needs and interests they’ve observed in other Suffolk County Parks.
The recent addition of electric hook-ups for more RVs at Indian Island, for example, has had a “tremendous” response among county residents, so the conceptual plans for the North Fork Preserve County Park include adequate spaces for RVs.
Seasonal cabins are very popular in upstate New York, but there are currently none on Long Island. “Cabins would give people who are a less comfortable with being outside something they are more comfortable with,” Gibbons said. The cabins would have electric and individual bathrooms, and they would be available into the cooler autumn months when people might prefer to sleep indoors but still appreciate the rural camping experience.
A clubhouse with a camp store is also proposed in the heart of the park, with space for programming, laundry and maybe even an arcade. The camp store would sell firewood, ice and other amenities, which Gibbons says is “very popular” in the other two county parks that provide something similar.
An equestrian center is also being considered for a western portion of the park, where preserved agriculture zoning limits what the county can do with the space. Equestrian use would be within those limits, and there is significant demand for indoor equestrian facilities at the county’s other parks, Gibbons said.
Only two of the county’s parks currently have space for equestrian use after two additional parks were closed to horses. “When the county was trying to figure out what was no longer making [equestrian areas] economically feasible, we found that by and large the largest interest is the indoor equestrian arena space,” Gibbons said.
This would open the park up to horse trail rides and even horseback riding lessons for campers, he added.
In addition to several group and youth camping areas, which are located in areas separate from the general public campsites, “lean-to” sites would be available as well. The lean-to sites would each consist of three walls with a pitched roof, a wood platform floor and a firepit. “[Lean-to’s] are very popular in Huntington at the Scouts’ Camp year-round,” Gibbons said, “and they’re something we don’t have nearly enough of to satisfy the interest for them.”
Roofed picnic pavilions, bathhouses and open activity fields are also planned throughout the park.
A master plan for the park is still at least two years off – the conceptual plan presented last night was for the purposes of an environmental impact review, which determined that the current plan has little environmental impact and would not require an environmental impact statement at this stage.
In the meanwhile, County Legislator Al Krupski formed an advisory committee to gather local feedback about the park, which he says will make official recommendations to the county early next year.
A small crowd of residents with homes near the North Fork Preserve and local nature enthusiasts voiced several concerns about the park last night, including their dissatisfaction with the park’s current maintenance.
“You need personnel to at least maintain what you have and prevent fire hazards,” said one Jamesport resident, whose home is adjacent to the park. “There’s acres of dry grass right next to my property.”
Krupski said in an interview today that maintaining the park in its current condition, which also includes managing the drainage issues that have plagued the property and its surrounding neighborhoods, was one of his biggest priorities in forming the committee.
“We need to focus on getting access to the public and having the trails open and maintained,” he said. “The drainage was not dealt with at all when Suffolk County Parks took over the property. Those are both immediate problems that I know the committee would like to see done.”
Many of the park’s neighboring homeowners also expressed concerns about the increase of traffic such a park would bring, as well as the “overdevelopment” of the property.
“This looks like a Levittown of camping, destroying the environment that you’ve got there,” said Sally Newbert, a member of the Eastern Long Island Audubon Society. “This plan is overdeveloped and ridiculous.”
One resident even called for the entire property to be preserved for passive recreational use, rather than just the northern 125 acres.
Krupski said today that the committee was formed to get such feedback from the local community.
“We want everybody’s input,” he said. “You’re not going to have a unanimous decision or vote an in issue like this.”
The committee, which is made up of local residents and community leaders, will meet several times before the end of the year before it makes its recommendations to the county.
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