Officials are hoping April's balmy weather won't mean a return of the graffiti, litter and petty vandalism that closed down a Nissequogue nature preserve last year.

The David Weld Sanctuary, a 125-acre nature preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, was shut down for several months in August while the group and Nissequogue Village officials figured out a way to halt the vandalism, which included spray-painted trees and etching on a dedication stone honoring the Weld family.

The sanctuary reopened in late fall with new rules designed to deter vandals, said Derek Rogers, preserve manager with The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. Those measures include restricted hours -- instead of the former hours of dawn to dusk, the preserve is now only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., he said.

The Nissequogue police department opens and closes the gate to the preserve's tiny parking lot every day, he said. Village officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

The group also erected new signs restricting the number of cars in the parking lot as a way to limit visitors to the site, and added a large sign at the entrance to the preserve listing the rules for visiting the sanctuary.

While the new rules have been in place over the winter, the real test will come with the warmer weather, Rogers said.

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"The busy season is obviously starting to happen right now," he said. "We've yet to see if this will in fact be effective."

But so far, the guidelines appear to be working, he said.

"I've seen a dramatic improvement in terms of litter and garbage and that sort of thing, which is really huge," Rogers said.

Yesterday, Bob Kemmann, a volunteer preserve monitor at the site for more than a decade, walked down the main path at the sanctuary and inspected the new informational kiosk -- the subject of plenty of graffiti before the new rules.

"This is where a lot of the vandalism took place," he said.

Kemmann said he was hopeful about the new guidelines.

"So far it seems to work," he said. "It's early, but the place looked good when I was down there last week. I hope it'll work."