Column: Tourist traffic, while a pain, isn’t all bad

10/20/2013 8:00 AM |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Seven-year-old James McGrath of Islip hauls a pumpkin last Saturday at Gabrielsen’s Country Farm in Jamesport. Pumpkin-picking is one reason people flock to the North Fork in the fall, leading to plenty of traffic.

I love my commute to work. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one around here who considers it a privilege to be able to drive Sound Avenue and other scenic routes in the area during their daily commute. Driving into – or even away from – a rising sun while farmers tend their fields or passing a tractor rolling along seems to offer a sense of “away-from-it-all” peace that, for me at least, makes the daily drive pretty enjoyable.

Then comes the weekend.

JOSEPH PINCIARO

JOSEPH PINCIARO

Particularly this time of year, as most of us know, those drives — though you’re often not doing too much actual “driving,” but rather “slowly traveling” — can easily become a little less enjoyable.

Yes, it’s pumpkin-picking season. Corn maze season. Apple-picking season.

If you haven’t already, you’ll probably read plenty on Facebook or maybe hear it in the grocery store about those dreaded tourists, the people from “up west” who annually swarm the slice of heaven we’re blessed to be able to call home year-round. They’ll pay someone to harvest their crops for them (extra points for the farmer who thought that one up!), the young-uns will post some selfies on Instagram (look guys, no pavement!) and someone might even bring grandma out into the farm in an electric wheelchair (I actually saw that one last weekend).

What they’re all doing, ultimately, is clogging up all these one-horse (or five-lane) roads and getting in our way as we just try to get our hair cut or make a trip to the hardware store.

They really should just go back to where they came from and leave us all alone, right?

I honestly doubt many people out there think all tourists should leave us alone. But what do we do exactly — close the gates at the Brookhaven Town border?

I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, a place people don’t really travel to. They live there, as do their family and friends, and they have fun together and watch the Red Sox together and make plenty of beautiful memories there. And they travel short distances when they want to be somewhere different for a weekend or so. Now, I happen to live in that place I used to travel to.

So I guess I don’t really get some of the complaints about tourists. If someone’s drive is delayed 20 minutes because people are dragging their bags of pumpkins across the street and wheeling their kids down the road in their wagons, to me that means a lot of people really wanted to come to the area I live in. Which I think is pretty neat.

I do hear horror stories about the way some tourists behave. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all tourists are angels or that dealing with agritourism traffic couldn’t be improved. But let’s not let a few bad apples spoil the bunch. And we’ve all heard that saying about people in glass houses (not greenhouses), right?

I was told by Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, that from Labor Day through the end of October, agritourism will generate anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of the annual revenue that comes into the farms that I’m able to enjoy long after those families are gone, the pumpkins rotted on their doorsteps. Agriculture as a whole in Suffolk County leads the state in terms of sales dollars generated, according to a 2010 study, bringing in over $240 million. And Cornell University found in the early 2000s that over 70 percent of farm owners said their agritourist customers were repeat customers, while nearly half of the customers themselves reported spending money at those destinations on more than one occasion.

I’m not exactly sure what all those numbers mean when it comes down to a direct impact on my pocket.

But if working around really bad traffic for a few weekends — or just staying home and doing work around the house or watching college football — is part of the cost of maintaining those morning drives on Sound Avenue while most of the tourists are taking the LIRR, I’ll take it.

Joseph Pinciaro is the managing editor of The News-Review. He can be reached at jpinciaro@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 238. Follow him on Twitter @cjpinch.