Dr. Annie Louise Wilkerson was a trailblazing Wake County obstetrician and gynecologist, who mentored other female doctors and delivered thousands of babies during her 53-year career. Her retreat was 157 acres on Falls Lake in north Raleigh, where she raised cattle and gathered her extended family.
When Wilkerson died in 2006, she left the land to the city of Raleigh as long as officials maintained the property as a nature preserve and used it primarily for nature and wildlife education.
The Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve officially opened to the public in summer 2011. Here you'll find plenty of opportunities to explore nature (though visitors are asked to follow a "leave no trace" ethic as it is a nature preserve).
Thanks to local Eagle Scouts, the preserve has three short nature trails of about a half mile to just less than a mile. These natural paths will take you to an old farm pond, a rock outcrop or through a forest.
Because Wilkerson's will limits the use and development on the property, you won't find a traditional playground here with swings, slides and monkey bars. But you will find two nature play areas. One uses stumps and logs to create a natural obstacle course for kids. Marti Kane, the park manager, said she's seen everyone from preschoolers to college kids enjoy it. Nearby, there's a table and chairs carved from a fallen tree.
And the park offers a variety of programs for preschoolers to adults. They include monthly Nature Play Days when park staff provide ideas and tools for outdoor play. When I took my two-year-old in January, she painted with mud on canvas, blew bubbles and had an outdoor puppet show. Nature Play Days are free and don't require registration. The next is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Feb. 17 (an early release day for kids on Wake's traditional calendar).
But you don't need to wait for the next Nature Play Day to explore. Visitors can borrow explorer backpacks filled with binoculars for kids, a compass, magnifying glass and more. Inside the preserve's office, you'll find a lobby full of floor puzzles, crafts and other nature-related toys to keep kids occupied, along with lots of windows to spy the wildlife outside.
When I visited, we all marveled at a group of vultures soaring over head and a lone leaf flitting through the air. It's remarkable how peaceful this property is. No wonder Dr. Wilkerson wanted the property preserved.
This is just the beginning for the Wilkerson preserve. Kane has plans for more trails, signs and nature activities for kids. A large tunnel made of vines for kids to crawl through is in the works this year. I can't wait to see that.
For more about the Wilkerson preserve, watch my video with Kane.
The Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve is open 10 a.m. to dusk, Tuesday to Saturday, and 1 p.m. to dusk, Sunday. It's closed Monday. The address is 5229 Awls Haven Rd. off Ravens Ridge Road near its intersection with Falls of Neuse Road. For information about its programs, check out the preserve's website or call the preserve at 919-996-6764.