Over three decades have passed since Jack and Iris Witkowsky made the decision to donate 400 of their 510-acre “Anka Farm” to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) as a leadership gift towards the creation of the Witkowsky State Wildlife Area. The family purchased the working farm, located on Blackjack Road in Hanover, from Wayne Clarkson in 1965 and had spent many wonderful holidays, weekends, and summer vacations there along with their two daughters, Anne and Kathy, for whom the farm was named.
“These were very happy days spent riding horses with the neighbor kids, hanging out with the Virtue brothers while they were making hay, exploring the stream bed, and having evening adventures out on the land,” said Anne when thinking back to her childhood. The girls shared a passion for riding, and so ponies, and later horses, were an essential part of Anne and Kathy’s days on the farm. “On the ponies — oh yes! Lots of times we were thrown due to them running with head down/bit in teeth, occasional rearing, and definitely tree rubbing (ask my sister about that one!). But we also went swimming on the horses, raced them in hay fields with our friends, and set up series of jumps with sawhorses and hay bales. It was an incredible childhood! Long after the donation to the State, we continued to come out to our remaining acreage and enjoy it. We kept the horses for a number of years, and carried on with the crops as well.”
The family’s wish was for others to be able to experience this amazing property as they had and donating it to the state for use as a wildlife area open to pedestrian and equestrian use seemed like the best way to accomplish this goal. “My parents had two stipulations for the donation. One, the State would need to grow the wildlife area by purchasing adjoining land and two, establish and maintain a trail system for hikers and horseback riders. Anne explained. “The state did make good on the first part as the property is now over 1,000 acres but fell short on the second.” Fast forward to 2012. Local resident Brad Petersburg, spokesman for a small group of area trail riders, approached JDCF with the idea of forming a friends group to take on the task of clearing and maintaining hiking and riding trails in the Wildlife Area. Since facilitating the creation of public trails is well within JDCF’s mission, the Friends of Witkowsky was adopted as an official volunteer group of JDCF.
After five years of relentless work, the Friends of Witkowsky finally have a written agreement between JDCF and the IDNR to clear trails during two phases at the Wildlife Area. “Bottom line, we have won the right to clear trails on the Witkowsky Wildlife Area. Now we have to make it happen,” said Brad.
By joining the Friends of Witkowsky, you have the opportunity to help a family’s thirty year old wish come true! Email firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up today!