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Officials urge residents to stay off EPCAL trail during hunting season

Riverhead Town’s recreation trail at the Enterprise Park at Calverton is closed from Jan. 7 to Jan 31 to accommodate shotgun hunting season on the town-owned land.

But not everyone is heeding that warning, officials said.

“One of the issues we’ve had this season was that someone was removing the signs during archery season,” said Jerry Halpin, a member of the town’s wildlife management advisory committee.

The archery season took place from Oct. 1 through Dec. 22.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the town has had shotgun hunting for deer at EPCAL for about nine years. A lottery for town residents was held Dec. 5 where hunters had to show proper photo identification and hunting documentation. Only those hunters are permitted during the current shotgun hunting season.

“This is the first year we’ve had the full EPCAL trail completed,” she said. “There’s some concern over how it’s being posted to let the community know they cannot go on that trail. We’ve notified the press, and posted it on our web site and social media, but we feel we need to continue to notify the public that the trail is closed at this time for safety reasons.”

The town has police barricades saying “do not cross” and other smaller signs warning “deer hunting in progress. Do not enter woods. Walking trail closed,” at various entrances to the trail, which is intended for walkers, joggers and bike riders and other non-motorized uses.

Prior to last year, the fenced-in trail only had about three acres paved, but now the trail goes all the way down to River Road/Grumman Boulevard, where is heads west and comes back north to its starting point near the town dog park.

Ms. Jens-Smith said no one is allowed on the trail until Jan. 31 and people who do go there could be fined up to $500 or sentenced to up to 30 days in jail.

Mr. Halpin said they have always seen people on the trail during hunting season in the past, but this year, there’s more of a concern because the trail is now complete.

He feels part of the problem is with people who don’t live in the town.

“There’s a brazenness from those outside of Riverhead, that, somehow, this is for them and no one else can have it. And I’ve spoken to well over 100 people since August. The people giving us push back are swearing at us are not from the Town of Riverhead.”

“There’s a sense of empowerment now that the trail is complete,” said Chris Witt, another member of the advisory committee. “We want hunters to be able to use it for three months of the year. It helps to manage the deer population, which at some point will be a problem.”

The committee suggested requiring a sticker for town residents to use the trail.

But Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the trail was paid for by state and county funds.

“It’s supposed to be a free recreation trail that’s open to the public,” she said.

Police Chief David Hegermiller said they are getting a large flashing road sign from the state to warn people that the trail is closed.

Those signs are often used to alert drivers to road closures, he said.

“If people see someone on the trail, they should call the desk officer, police will get out and write tickets and word will get out and people will stop doing it,” Mr. Halpin said.

Ms. Jens-Smith said that for the remainder of the month, “the education needs to continue to stay off the trail until Jan. 31.”

Photo caption: A sign posted warning people to avoid the area during shotgun hunting season. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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