homepage logo

Broken Timber: A Place For Everybody, Not Just Kids

By Staff | Mar 25, 2009

Editor’s Note: This is the first of four articles on Broken Timber Outdoor Education Center in Hannibal.

“Keep your dreams alive. Understand that to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.”

This is a motto which has driven Mike Willis to believe in the establishment of the Broken Timber Outdoor Education Center.

Last year, Willis brought his love of outdoors and fishing to children, ages 12-17, when he organized the Broken Timber Junior Fishermen program. With the help of volunteer instructors, he hosted field trips to local ponds for riverfront schools and St. Sylvester School students.

Students learned about different types of fishing, fly tying, bait, identification of aquatic life and the rules. Each child tried his or her hand at fishing and before leaving, they received their own rod and reel, provided by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

According to Willis, in less than a month, he gave out more than 500 rods and reels. He hopes to have each child in the fourth grade of each school participate in a fishing field trip.

The first program was organized from his home near Hannibal. Envisioning a permanent facility geared to outdoor education, which would enhance the youth program, Willis began looking around. The first selection created a lot of insurmountable problems.

Noticing the vacant buildings at the AGI facility (formerly Conalco), Willis approached David Linick, AGI’s vice-president. Linick took the idea to the president of the company, which is home-based in New York. He thought it was “a good fit” for the community.

Three months ago, Broken Timber Outdoor Education Center was a reality. It is operating under the umbrella of the Ohio Riverfront Development Committee, of which Willis is a member. The group hopes to develop the Appalachian culture in this area to promote tourism.

There is plenty of room in the new facility to accommodate and expand the program – and at no cost to the organization. AGI is providing the building and the utilities.

It may become the most-used, most-appreciated 190 x 55 foot block building in the state of Ohio. Granted, it was a gift. But, a gift that will keep on giving, and giving for several years to come. It’s a gift that will help inspire, forge and expand today’s youths through a wide range of outdoor activities that includes the fun stuff – fishing, shooting, archery, hunting, trapping, camping and more.

Willis has organized the program with a board of directors so the center is eligible for various grants. The current board of directors includes Willis as executive director, Bill Thompson, Todd Fry and Mark Landefeld.

Willis has enlisted the help of dedicated instructors, ages 21 to 72, who include his son, Cory, an eight-time All American at WVU, who will help with shooting instruction; Toby Willis, Keith Jones, Jim McGuire, Robbie Sellers, Doug Duvall, Eric Ritchie, Roy Thomas, Jerry West, Len Truchan, Chris Ault, Jim Luikart and Bill Thomas. Chairman for hunting and trapping is Mark Romick.

“This is an open door to knowledge,” said Willis, who is looking for people who have knowledge to share.

He is talking with ODNR instructors to have them come to the facility to train the instructors. Currently, they have to travel to Columbus for the classes.

Looking toward the future, Willis is looking for grants to develop wetlands and local creek areas. He would like to raise money for canoes to take people to watch and enjoy the habitat. The Ohio Secretary of State office has seen the Educational Center.

The Center has Hazel Freeman and Sylvia Bowen as Certified Naturist Advisors and are planning hiking trips, as well as trying to get grants for bike trails and walking trails. These two ladies will educate kids and adults on the outdoor importance of outdoor wildlife flora and fauna. They have had white swans in the swamp lands, as well as Eagles across from the Education Center.

The Center is hoping everything will come together and have seniors come and help as well as enjoy the Center and are trying to host the Hunting and Fishing SouthEastern EXPO down the road that will bring many-many people to our area.

Next installment: A look at the Powhattan Point Wildlife Area.