Walking at Polk County’s Stearns Park will soon be a bit more interactive.
A collaboration between Polk County Public Libraries and Polk County Parks & Recreation has led to the addition of a StoryWalk™ installation at the park.
According to the StoryWalk website, the idea is quite simple as “laminated pages from a children’s book are attached to wooden stakes, which are installed along an outdoor path. As you stroll down the trail, you’re directed to the next page in the story.”
“StoryWalks have been gaining popularity across the country for several years now and are a creative way to encourage both physical activity and lifelong learning,” said Library Director Marcie Dowling. “Polk County Public Libraries have hosted several temporary StoryWalks, most recently along the wooded trail behind Columbus Library. These have always been well received by the community and it was a natural step to install a permanent walk.
“Stearns Park’s ideal walking path and central location in Columbus made it the obvious location for our first StoryWalk. We hope that it will be a place for families to gather together, enjoy their beautiful surroundings, and experience the joys of reading, in-turn sparking the curiosity that leads to lifelong learning.”
To celebrate, there will be a ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, June 19 at Stearns Park. Along with a ribbon cutting there will be balloon twister by Professor Whizzpop, games, crafts, and more activities. The event is free.
Polk County Parks and Recreation Interim Director Laura Baird will be on hand at the grand opening to lead readers around the path, going through the story and completing the activity on each sign.
“The Polk County Parks and Recreation Department began using informal ‘fitness stations’ for the Homeschool Gym class that was meeting weekly in Stearns Park,” she said. “Over the winter, I began working on creating a formal way to post the exercises so that we could also display the entries for the Silver Arts competition (which is an event where senior citizens showcase their artistic talents) in the park.
“At the same time, the library approached us about creating a StoryWalk on an area trail, and it seemed like the perfect way to collaborate. This project provides a quick update to the park and will provide one more way to enjoy the area, as well as help families practice literary skills while spending time together outside.”
The first book that will be showcased on the local StoryWalk will be Airlie Anderson’s “Cat’s Colors.” The book tells the story of a small cat that collects colors on a grey day. Anderson has also written other award-winning children’s books like “Ten Little Ducks” and “Cows in the Kitchen.” Baird said that the books will be changed every few months to keep the signs fresh.
“Many of our Storywalks will include activities or challenges,” Dowling said. “One page of Cat’s Colors, for instance, asks readers to find and identify different colors in their surroundings.”
This project has been a group effort, Baird said.
“The Friends of Polk County Libraries agreed to share the cost of the project, and I checked in with the various stakeholders of the park, like the Town of Columbus, Polk County Schools, and our own maintenance department, to ensure that the plans would fit in with the 4th of July celebration as well as the regular maintenance of the park,” she said. “I ordered the signs from Barking Dog Exhibits, and the maintenance department helped by digging the holes and setting the posts.”
Staff members with Polk County Libraries spent last year creating a new strategic plan. During this planning phases staffers conducted a three-month community needs survey. The library received 637 responses from Polk County residents who provided feedback on their needs and wants for the coming years.
“One of the highest rated desires was more health and wellness resources and initiatives. Our new strategic plan looks for ways that the libraries can support what we refer to as health literacy by providing education and experiences related to personal well-being,” Dowling said.
“The StoryWalk is a great interactive experience for families and encourages residents to enjoy beautiful Stearns Park and get out and moving. We hope the rotating exhibits will keep families coming back for new experiences and spark a love of learning at any age. Planning for the StoryWalk began this winter and it is also poignant to have a new pandemic-proof, outdoor activity to offer residents.”
StoryWalk was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vt. and was developed with the help of Rachel Senechal, formerly of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library (which is located in Montpelier). Ferguson began the project in 2007 and her hope was to encourage healthy activities that could fit into a busy schedule and be done without costing the participants. According to the StoryWalks website, these installations have been installed in all 50 states and 13 countries including, Germany, Canada, England, Bermuda, Russia, Malaysia, Pakistan and South Korea.
The ribbon cutting ceremony will serve as a double event, Dowling said, adding that it will also kick off Polk County Library’s Summer Learning Program. Each new child and teen who registers for the Summer Learning Program will receive a special treat.
“Each summer, the libraries create programs and learning challenges with the goal of preventing what educators call the ‘summer slide,’ which is the decline in reading abilities and other academic skills that can occur over the summer months when school is not in session,” she said. “By keeping children and teens engaged in learning across the summer, the libraries help prepare them for the start of the school year.
“Each Summer Learning Program has a theme, and this year it’s ‘Tails & Tales’ and has an animal theme. We’ll be registering Summer Learning Program participants at the event, but registration can happen anytime between June 14 and August 22.”
Those wishing to participate virtually can register and complete challenges online through the new https://polklibraries.readsquared.com/ website.
During the Summer Learning Program, participants can choose different learning challenges each week for a chance to win weekly and grand prizes. Dowling said the library staff has been busy creating dozens of take-and-make kits (grab bags that can be picked up at Columbus or Saluda libraries) that correspond to activities demonstrated in a virtual program. Check out the calendar of events for more details at https://polklibrary.org/events/.