Wheaton resident Warren Jones pets a horse at St. James Farm in Warrenville during a recent visit. Now forest preserve officials are trying to determine how large a presence horses will have in the future at the property.
Paul Michna /May 2008
The future of St. James Farm, one of DuPage County Forest Preserve District's newest acquisitions, eventually could be shaped by how officials decide to market it.
A special committee has been created to help lure users to the property that recently was opened to the public, but remains largely inaccessible.
The 607-acre site in Warrenville, which once was owned by industrial magnate and philanthropist Brooks McCormick, is now available to the public every second and fourth weekend of the month.
After an overhaul following McCormick's death in 2006, the farm opened for the first time in May and drew nearly 8,000 visitors the first weekend.
With dozens of buildings scattered about the property and a number of sculptures and other architectural features, St. James Farm is unlike any other district preserve.
How the property should be used in the long term, however, was never specifically addressed until now.
"If someone had done a rush on that we may have wound up going in the wrong direction," said Wayne Zaininger, director of St. James Farm.
Commissioners appointed Warrenville resident Patti Mehling to head the property's new development committee to spur activities at the site. Because McCormick required an equestrian presence at the farm in perpetuity as part of the $43 million deal in 2000, Mehling's equine background was a natural fit. But she's the first to say St. James shouldn't just be for horses and riders.
"I want to see it broadened and also identify things we need at St. James to make it accessible for everyone," she said.
The first step is contacting organizations that might find the property to be a good fit for events they are planning, Mehling said.
"Most of these groups plan their events a year in advance," she said. "If we're going to have special events we need to get the word out that we're available."
Mehling said the obvious initial choices are horse groups, but those people also may see the farm as a good fit for something else they are involved with. By marketing and renting the farm for special events, the forest preserve district can generate revenue that will help fund improvements that will make it more accessible to everyone, Mehling said.
"There are enough people who have a special interest in seeing St. James flourish that we don't need to go into the district's coffers," she said.
Currently, there are no horses lodged at the farm. When the district holds equestrian events at St. James, horses that live at the nearby Danada Equestrian Center are used.
There has been some talk of combining all equestrian activities at St. James and using the Danada property in other capacities, but district officials said it is premature to commit to that.