George and Lillian Willoughby moved to Deptford in 1954 with hopes of building a Quaker community. But even with the township’s 32 acres, it was not to be.
Sixty years later, their daughter Sally Willowbee has her own vision.
‘We wanted to have and build a community (in Deptford), but when it didn’t happen the way we envisioned it, we said, ‘OK let’s make this a place for nature,’” recalled Willowbee, whose name is spelled differently than her parents.
“The community still happened, but just not in the way we thought it would.”
To educate the public about the environmental landmark along Big Timber Creek, known as Old Pine Farm, the Natural Land Trust was created. Its goal is to conserve the natural aspects of the farm’s land, and it became a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 1997. Willowbee serves as trust caretaker and program committee chairwoman.
According to trustee Joan Tracy, George and Lillian Willoughby had help from some Quaker friends before being denied by Deptford Township. After that, the couple contacted New Jersey Green Acres so land would at least be safe and preserved from a government takeover. New Jersey Green Acres is an organization that was created in 1961 to meet the state’s recreation and conservation needs.
Once a month, the Natural Lands Trust holds a workshop known as Walk in the Wild. Before COVID, the wild consisted of bird watching and nature walks.
“We didn’t have them in the winter because we had no indoor space, but now that we have the downstairs part of the house, we can share it with the public,” said Willowbee.
Programs are available with bird watching and nature walks still intact. Monthly presenters who are experts share tips and pointers on how to preserve land and raise animals.
The Walk in the Wild workshop now consists of organic gardening, a program on raising bees and nature poetry. Before this year, Deptford residents weren’t allowed to raise chickens in their backyards. Susan Mays, who helped to change that, will talk about the new ordinance in Deptford and rock painting for kids on May 16, rain date May 23. Presenter Gwenne Baile will talk about raising backyard chickens and will bring her therapy chickens.
“The land is open for people to walk the trails from dawn to dusk,” said Willowbee.