Nearly 50 years ago, a man donated a 160-acre plot of land to the city of Moscow in his will under one condition: it must be used to benefit local children.

It’s unlikely that man could have imagined his land would one day serve as a place of escape and refuge for community members during a devastating global pandemic.

Named after its late donor, Virgil Phillips Farm County Park is located five miles north of Moscow on Highway 95. The park is owned by the city of Moscow and managed by Latah County Parks and Recreation. Phillips bequeathed the land to the city in 1972.

The recreation area has served as a source of comfort for one Moscow resident, 16-year-old Ian Schlater, during this uncertain time. In fourth grade, Schlater was introduced to Phillips Farm for the first time through a school project. Now, he enjoys volunteering at the park with the Moscow Senior High School Environmental Club, led by biology teacher, Lee Ann Eareckson.

“I’ve always been drawn to Phillips Farm, because it’s kind of like a sanctuary for me, and it’s just 15 minutes out of town,” Schlater said. “It’s also a safe place to go during the pandemic — everybody I saw there was wearing a mask and keeping adequate distance.”

Schlater was recently awarded first place in the youth category of the Phillips Farm Photo Contest.

The contest was open to local photographers of all ages and contestants were split into two categories: youth (17 and younger) and adult (18 and older). The only requirement was that submitted photos were taken at the park.

Moscow resident Terri Schmidt took first place in the adult category with a photograph she titled, “Bobbing for Apples, Anyone?”

A longtime community member and frequent Phillips Farm visitor, Schmidt said the photo contest opened her eyes to the wide range of sights and activities the park has to offer.

“It has such a variety of things: a pond, a meadow, hills with pine trees and many different bird species,” Schmidt said.

One of Shmidt’s favorite things about the park is that its hiking trails offer a range of difficulty, so it welcomes all skill levels. She has been using the park the past few months to meet up with friends to enjoy nature while practicing social distancing. The photo contest was organized by the Friends of Phillips Farm, a local nonprofit that works to enhance opportunities for recreation and education at the park. One of the group’s board members, Sheri Six, said the group puts on activities such as the contest to encourage community members to use the park’s space.

Phillips Farm is complete with trails, picnic areas and public bathrooms. In addition to its public access, Schmidt said the park is frequently used as an educational space for local science students to study biology, ecology and conservation.

“A lot of people don’t even know the farm exists,” Six said. “It’s out there, and it’s available for anybody to go to and enjoy outdoor activities.”

For more information about the park, visit friendsofphillipsfarm.weebly.com/

Ellen Dennis can be reached at (208) 883-4632 or by email at briefs@dnews.com.

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