"It is one of our best-kept secrets," said Elizabeth Davis, marketing and communications coordinator for the recreation district. With its hiking trails, a historic farm house and two barns, a garden and farm animals, Willoughby Farm, a heritage farm and conservation reserve, provides numerous opportunities for families to learn and play.
About three miles of hiking trails criss-cross the farm's ravine. Families with little ones might want to stick with the blue trail, which is just over a quarter mile, or the 0.8-mile white trail. Both are void of the steep ravines that hikers climb on the longer trails. Be sure to stop in the "Kids Zone" a natural play area with a teeter-totter and lots of wooden blocks and logs to prompt creative play.
Don't be surprised if you spot guinea fowl along the trails. Just like the visitors themselves, these birds have free range throughout the farm. At times, the farm's goats (they're much more timid than the goats you may be familiar with at Grant's Farm and the Saint Louis Zoo) and chickens also roam beyond their pins and coops. Two rabbits also live at the farm.
The garden is a focal point of the farm and is managed by master gardeners from University of Illinois Extension. Volunteer gardeners tend to the vegetable garden and the herb and butterfly garden. Classes for both children and adults are offered throughout the growing season. Every Wednesday morning is workday at Willoughby, and families can volunteer together in the garden or other areas of the park.
Willoughby Farm was previously owned by the Willoughby family who raised cows on the property. The original farm house still stands on the property, and volunteers are working to restore the home, which sat vacant for several years. Davis anticipates that the first floor of the two-story farm house will be completed this summer.
Visitors can explore two barns on the property. The larger barn, which was brought to the site from Galesburg, Ill., is available for rent for parties and other events, Davis said.
If you make a pit stop at the farm's new bathrooms, be sure to take a peek at the restored outhouse, which is landscaped with lamb's ear plants — the toilet paper of choice from the early 20th century, Davis said.
Willoughby Farm will host its annual Heritage Day and Hoe Down on Saturday, May 5. The free Heritage Day is 10 a.m. to 3 pm. and includes textile and woodworking demonstrations, tractor rides, scavenger hunts, garden activities, nature tours, live music and a hog roast. Come back that evening from 7 to 10:30 p.m. for the hoe down in the barn with music and country dance lessons and demonstrations. Admission is $5 per person. Kids 3 and under are free, and admission is capped at $20 per family.
Willoughby Farm is open from 9 a.m. to dusk and is located at 631 Willoughby Lane, Collinsville, Ill., 62234. Call 618-346-PLAY for more information.