This story was originally published in the Suffolk Times/northforker.com
If you’ve been anywhere near the East End over the past month — on a weekend, anyway — you’ve seen it. You’ve sat in it. You’ve been frustrated by it.
Traffic is just a fact of life during pumpkin-picking season. You have to feel for the locals who more or less can’t leave their homes on weekends. I’m not sure what can be done, but someone a whole lot smarter than me should come up with a plan. And blaming local wineries isn’t a plan.
I’ll be honest; I don’t visit wineries this time of year unless I can take a day off from work midweek or can set up an appointment after work. Wine tasting is supposed to be a fun, relaxing activity. Sitting in traffic as I watch families carrying a dozen pumpkins, a hay bale and some cornstalks across Sound Avenue — often disregarding traffic at their own peril — isn’t either of those things.
But if you want to hit the wine trail or even go pumpkin picking yourself this weekend, here are some tips that I share with anyone who will listen.
I have two kids under the age of 10. I know that getting out of the house on time seems nearly impossible, but I also know that if I don’t leave my house in Miller Place by 10 a.m. I’m not getting where I want to go without sitting in traffic starting in Wading River and extending to Harbes in Mattituck. If I can get my kids out the door, we always go to our easternmost stop first and then work our way back — watching the folks sitting in traffic coming the other way as we do. If you can do it, do it. Do it right and you can even be home before traffic gets bad.
Stay closer to home.
This mostly helps with the pumpkin-picking portion of your weekend programming. There are farms that offer all of the same pumpkins and related amenities that aren’t out on the forks. My family goes to a farm in Manorville most years. Sure, it’s crowded and busy — just like any other farm this time of year — but it’s closer to home and traffic has never been an issue. Look around. There may be a farm that is no less authentic an experience closer to your house. Similarly, there are wineries well west of the North Fork, too. Harmony Vineyards in Head of the Harbor and Whisper Vineyards in St. James offer wine tasting without battling pumpkin traffic.
Don’t blame the wineries.
This isn’t so much a tip as it is a request. Maybe even a demand. I’ve seen at least one local official point his finger at local wineries when asked about the traffic problem. Not only is that unfair, it’s just not true. Wineries are open year round and the spike they see in visitors this time of year is a symptom of the pumpkin-picking season. People hit the North Fork for pumpkins and cider doughnuts and then maybe stop at a winery or two before heading home.
Don’t blame the farms, either.
I don’t have their books open in front of me, but we all know that some of these agritainment-driven farms make a big chunk of their money in October. We may hate the traffic it creates or wish that they’d at least hire some parking/crossing guards to help traffic flow and keep people safe, but this is part of their livelihood.
I don’t mean in traffic. Halloween is on Monday, so the demand for pumpkins drops like a stone after this weekend. Take a weekend off from visiting the tasting rooms and go in November. The traffic will be greatly reduced, tasting room staff will be less stressed and stretched and you’re going to have a better experience all around.