University of Maine at Farmington student Jacob Warren puts out a cooking fire on a section of the Sandy River in Farmington while UMF Police Sgt. Wayne Drake, left, and Farmington Police Sgt. Edward H. Hastings IV watch Monday. The university prohibits fires on its property. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — There’s been a considerable increase of activity along the Sandy River in Farmington over the summer as people seek recreational opportunities when so many events have been canceled and businesses have temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Unfortunately with this increased activity, we have received increased reports of vandalism, littering, public intoxication, underage drinking and other illegal activities,” University of Maine at Farmington Director of Public Safety Brock E. Caton said in an email, “therefore my department has increased our patrol presence in these areas to deter this type of behavior.”

The section of the river that runs along the Prescott Athletic Fields, which includes the trails leading to Trestle Beach, is owned by the University of Maine at Farmington and patrolled by campus police.

Farmington Police Department Chief Jack D. Peck Jr. said his department’s records do not indicate an increase in illegal activity along the river, but they do not respond to incidents on UMF’s property unless requested.

“We work very close together all the time,” Peck said in a phone interview. “We’re right here, campus is right here in town, but Farmington Police, we don’t really patrol that area per se. If we get a call, we will respond to it and respond with backup if they ask.

Reports along the river have varied from homeless people using the woods for camping, potentially as a result of the the Western Maine Homeless Outreach shelter closure in March, to UMF students gathering for fires.

UMF student Jacob Warren frequents the riverbank about twice a week to unwind and to sometimes cook a dutch oven dinner over a fire on the pebble beach.

“That site was picked deliberately as well, with there being no dry brush nearby to catch and the water merely 15 feet away, it’s one of the safer areas to have a fire,” Warren said in an email.

On Monday evening, Warren was in the process of constructing a wood post tripod to hang his dutch oven over a fire when he was approached by a Farmington police officer and a UMF campus police officer.

“Sgt. (Wayne) Drake and Sgt. (Edward) Hastings were very polite,” Warren said. “I have never had any issues with the police before and they explained that the college was “cracking down” on fires in that area, as it was a popular place for minors to come and illegally drink.”

The officers requested that Warren put out the fire immediately, which he did within minutes using an empty jug that he brought with him specifically for that purpose.

“How the rules spawned by minors having a party, being loud and irresponsible, applies to one man simply relaxing by a fire, taking all the proper precautions and keeping to himself, is a mystery to me,” Warren said. UMF should handle individuals having a fire on a case by case basis, he said.

Caton explained in his email that prohibited activities on campus include camping, fires, alcohol consumption, tobacco use and marijuana use.

“Anyone caught violating these restrictions and policies will be asked to leave the premises and may receive a criminal trespass warning; prohibiting that individual from all UMF property,” Caton said.

Using the UMF section of the river at night is also prohibited, and those found on the property by campus police will be asked to leave.

The increase in student gathering and fires along the river may correlate with UMF’s Safe Return to Farmington policy, which restricted resident students from having visitors in their rooms during the first two weeks of school as a COVID-19 precautionary measure. Students are now allowed to have one visitor in their room as long as they are also a UMF student.

“Before the campus security clears out the river of all campers, they should acknowledge the situation they will have,” Warren said. “Now, students who would normally be outside and in well ventilated areas, will have the same parties, with the same alcohol, indoors and in confined spaces with plenty of opportunity for transmission.”

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