The state Department of Environmental Conservation is allowing bowhunters to cull the deer population on its Kings Park property that includes a handicap-accessible trail, abuts homes and is used by local high school students.
Residents and local officials said they are concerned about potential injuries in the area surrounding the quarter-mile trail, which has an entrance on Meadow Road between Lawrence Road and Magellan Avenue and is managed by the DEC.
Marcy Freeman, 61, who uses an electric wheelchair and lives near the trail -- which complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act and is one of two managed by the DEC on Long Island -- said it offers a rare opportunity for the disabled to enjoy nature.
"You can take a deep breath and just clear your mind . . . distract yourself from your limitations and your pain," she said. "It's not appropriate to have any kind of hunting in this area."
Daniel Tobias, 51, of Kings Park, a retired New York City police officer, said he won't bring his 10-year-old son, who also uses a wheelchair, there while hunters are present.
"I've seen plenty of people shot by accident," Tobias said. "I don't want to take that chance."
The DEC opened 57 acres of the nearly 70-acre Kings Park Unique Area to bowhunting between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo said the change came after the State Legislature passed a measure in its 2014 budget bill reducing the required distance for archery hunting from 500 feet to 150 feet from occupied dwellings.
"The cost and danger to motorists from deer collisions far outweigh the perceived threat of allowing bowhunting to occur on the property," she said. "DEC has not documented a single bowhunter-related shooting involving a second person on any of our DEC managed lands since the formation of DEC in 1970."
In recent years, the agency has opened Calverton Woods, Ridge Conservation Area and Brookhaven State Park to archery hunting, officials said. The DEC said only two archers are permitted on the Kings Park property at a time.
Sean Lehmann, president of the Kings Park Civic Association, said the DEC should not use a one-size-fits-all approach when culling deer.
"It's not like the roughly 20,000 acres of hunting area out east where there's much less density as far as housing," he said. "This issue is about the safety of the residents."
Kings Park schools Superintendent Timothy Eagen said he sent a letter to parents last week informing them of the change. The closest distance between the area and the far end of the Kings Park High School athletic fields is 140 feet, DEC officials said.
But Matt Sasso, president of the Lake Grove-based not-for-profit Long Island Deer Management Coalition, said it is unlikely deer would be hunted near the trail because human activity would scare them off.
"Almost all archery hunting for deer is done from an elevated tree stand, which is at a height of anywhere from 15 to 25 feet up in a tree," he said. "Typically the average shot would be at 20 yards or less with the arrow toward the ground . . . there's no mistake that can be made between a deer and a person."
Michael Lewis, 38, of Kings Park, a DEC-certified hunter and bowhunter education instructor, said archers are required to take a minimum of 18 hours of training in the state.
State Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said he supports hunting but thinks the change should be looked at "very carefully . . . Even though there's never been a fatality, we all know you never say never."