The Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve Park is, as Mark Turner aptly put it, a park that’s as big as its name. Through Dr. Annie’s foresight and the hard work of her family, friends and Raleigh Parks and Rec staff, Raleigh’s first nature preserve park is a peaceful memorial to a neighborhood hero.
Dr. Annie’s will was specific about the use of the 157 acres that she deeded to Raleigh. She specified that the land should be a nature park used for education and research and that no new buildings be built on the property. Dr. Annie’s family was very involved in the development of the park, ensuring that her wishes and vision become a reality.
The site has a number of green and sustainable features. Pervious concrete and pavers similar to those used at the Walnut Creek Wetland Center allow water to filter through to the soil, minimizing runoff. Many of the materials used when converting a home on the property to the existing park office were reclaimed or recycled. The restrooms utilize a water reclamation and treatment system that allows water to be recycled and used to flush toilets and urinals, minimizing the amount of water drawn from the park’s on-site well. This small scale Membrane Bio-Reactor (MBR) is the first application of the technology in North Carolina. Solar powered LEDs light the parking lot and photovoltaic panels on the park office roof generate power that is sold back to the utility company. There are also two electric vehicle recharging stations – one in the parking lot near the park office and one for charging vehicles used by park staff.
There are currently three trails on the property. The longest is the forest loop that takes you on a mile-long hike through the woods on the west side of the park. There is a short trail that leads from the outer parking lot to the park office and a loop that leads you around the pond. If you’re looking for the longest option, I recommend parking in the outer lot (the first parking area you see just after entering the park) and taking the trail toward the park office. Just before reaching the office, there’s an option to continue on the forest loop trail. When you get near the end of that trail, you’ll be able to see the pond. Take the loop around the pond and you’ll end up just downhill from the natural play area and the restrooms. Make sure that you visit the office before you head back to your car – the park staff is friendly and informative.
Another trail is in the works as a project led by a local Eagle Scout candidate and a future trail will lead visitors to an old quarry on the property. The quarry served as a source for Falls Leucogneiss. This stone is known for it’s water-resistant nature and was used as a foundation for many historic NC mills including Yates Mill and Lassiter Mill. Another future trail will connect to the NC Mountains-to-Sea hiking trail that follows the southwest edge of Falls Lake.
The page on Raleigh’s site announcing the dedication of the park lists a sample of the programming you can expect to be offered.
Dr. Annie’s residence has yet to be converted for public use. In the future, funds will be raised to convert that building for additional space for education and conservation research.
Raleigh is in the process of developing a Nature Preserves Park Classification. In addition to the Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve Park, there are three other parks listed as meeting the draft definition of a Raleigh Nature Preserve. They are the Durant Nature Park, the Horseshoe Farm Park, and the southern portion of the Lake Johnson Park.