Recreation panel backs some hunting in North Yarmouth park; decision in selectmen's hands

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The Recreation Commission voted 3-1 Monday to recommend that limited hunting be allowed in Old Town House Park.

The recommendation has gone to Board of Selectmen, which is scheduled to discuss the matter at its next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 17.

The commission favored deer hunting in November and turkey hunting in May, by permit, from a half hour before sunrise to noon. The arrangement would be revisited in three years to see how many permits were issued, the use of the park by hunters and what game was taken out of the park.

Commission members Paul Hodgetts, Kristi Wright and Cindy Guernsey voted in favor of the recommendation, which if approved by the Board of Selectmen will lift the ban on hunting at the park. Chairwoman Jenny Tuemmler was opposed.

The Board of Selectmen sent the matter to the Recreation Commission for review last week. Although voters at Town Meeting in June rejected a warrant article that would allow all forms of recreation, including hunting, on all public lands, board members sensed that the question might have passed had it focused on hunting at Old Town House Park.

The approximately 60-acre park off Route 9 comprises roughly 25 percent of the town’s public lands. Hunting is permitted on the other 75 percent.

In September 2008, selectmen voted unanimously to allow hunting at the park, subject to easement and deed restrictions. But the panel reversed its decision a year later, voting 4-1 to ban all hunting there. Selectmen voted unanimously in January to allow weekday turkey hunting at the park in May, which echoed a recommendation by the Recreation Commission.

Tuemmler said at Monday’s meeting that she would rather see the hunting question go to a Town Meeting vote.

“I think it’s going to be too confusing,” she said of the stipulations suggested for Old Town House Park. “It’s not standard hunting seasons and standard hunting times, and there are parts of the park where discharge of firearms is always going to be prohibited, and parts where it’s not.”

There is a deed restriction on the Nanovic parcel of the property in the western portion of the park. A portion on the eastern end has a conservation easement dictating that the town can choose whether to permit hunting, and the deed for the piece in the middle does not mention hunting.

“For me it’s not really a safety issue,” Tuemmler said. “… I just think there’s a perception that … going out in the woods, or going out in a field during hunting season is not safe if there are hunters out there.”

She said the issue is about equity, and that while hunters have said they were being discriminated against by not being able to hunt at the park, their activities essentially do the same to another group.

Hodgetts argued, though, that non-hunters are always free to use the park.

He said later in the meeting that early morning is a prime time for hunting, and that hunters will likely leave if someone is there for a non-hunting purpose like walking a dog.

“I find it very hard to believe that they would stay there,” Hodgetts said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.