StoryWalk Trails Combine Nature Hikes With Storytime
Read as you hike Triangle trails
A child enjoys a pop-up StoryWalk event at Brumley Nature Preserve in Chapel Hill.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Rosen, Lower School Librarian at Durham Academy
Imagine following the pages of a storybook along a nature trail, reading as you explore the outdoors. “Ten or eleven years ago, this idea was just kind of magic,” says Sean Higgins, interpretation and education manager at North Carolina State Parks. “I’m thrilled to see it pop up all over.”
As a community educator and parent, Higgins has joined individuals and communities across the country in his enthusiasm for StoryWalk trails: outdoor learning experiences that combine nature exploration with storytime.
The StoryWalk concept began in 2007 with Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont. A specialist in chronic disease prevention, Ferguson was looking for fun ways to get families outside and moving. She came up with the idea of separating out the pages of a children’s book and posting them along a local nature trail. The community responded with enthusiasm, so Ferguson began loaning out other StoryWalk books through Montpelier’s Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Eleven years later, StoryWalk trails have been installed in parks, on library campuses and along nature trails in all 50 states and 12 countries.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Brignac
How It Works
The basic StoryWalk concept is simple: Select a children’s book, take apart the pages, laminate them and post them along a trail so families can follow the trail from page to page, reading the story as they go. The process is perfectly legal as long as the pages are not altered in any way (including enlarging them). Making changes requires permission from the book’s copyright holder.
Within that basic framework, StoryWalk trails can vary widely. Durability is a prime concern for long-term StoryWalk installations. Partnership for Children, for example, recently installed a StoryWalk trail in Kinston. Because the installation is permanent, they ordered custom metal frames and posts that can withstand time and wear.
For a one-day StoryWalk event that Carolina Friends School, Durham Academy and Duke School set up in April at the George and Julia Brumley Family Nature Preserve in Chapel Hill, the organizers simply laminated the pages of a book themselves and posted them on sticks.
“It doesn’t have to be that fancy,” says Higgins, who uses a set of portable StoryWalk stakes and signs to display books at trails and events in state parks across North Carolina. “It can be the laminated pages of a kids’ book hole-punched, with yarn tying them to trees. I’ve seen everything.”
A community’s goal for its StoryWalk trail affects presentation choices. In the Wilmington area, the New Hanover County Public Library System, for example, has set up four permanent StoryWalk trails across the county. These particular books offer move-along instructions that direct participants to move in certain ways while walking from one sign to the next.
One book, “I Got the Rhythm” by Connie Schofield-Morrison, instructs families to move their feet rhythmically on their way to one sign, and shake their hips with their arms in the air on the way to another. In this case, the library system has gotten permission from the book’s authors to alter the book’s pages. That process costs money, but it also fits well with local community goals, says Harry Tuchmayer, library director for New Hanover County Public Library System. The county welcomed the library system’s StoryWalk proposal, Tuchmayer says, because it “fit with one of our county’s initiatives. We’re trying to get people a little bit more active — physically active — and libraries are always looking for ways that we can coordinate with the county’s overall strategic plan. And getting people healthy and moving was one of their goals.”
A StoryWalk trail’s purpose also helps coordinators choose which books to display. Librarians at the New Hanover County Library look for books they can adapt to include move-along directions in ways that make sense with the illustrations.
The North Carolina State Parks system, on the other hand, often seeks books compatible with particular educational themes or events. At Stone Mountain State Park, for example, the park system holds an annual Old-Fashioned Day and sets up a book called, “When I Was Young in the Mountains” by Cynthia Rylant as part of that event. The parks system also chooses books according to each year’s educational theme. “This year is The Year of the Fish,” explains Higgins, “so ‘The Rainbow Fish’ is making it around to a few parks.”
Other display considerations might include how long the organizers want the trail to be, the amount of space available, and the ages of the people whom they expect will use the trail.
Why Install a StoryWalk?
Higgins appreciates StoryWalk trails in part because they are a practical way to get families moving. “I love how it gets kids excited so they run ahead like, ‘I wanna hike! I wanna get to the next one!’ he says. “But then instead of running out of view, there’s a natural break for something that gives you time to catch up to them.”
Jennelle Lewis, project development coordinator for Partnership for Children in Lenoir and Greene counties, says, “It’s for people of all ages, for families to get outdoors, to bond. It really connects early literacy and physical activity.”
Lewis also emphasizes StoryWalk trails’ potential to bring people together. “I think it will help build communities,” she says. “You just sit and talk about what you see — do the activities at the bottom of the posts. It’s just a really great way to engage children and families.”
Bringing StoryWalk to Your Community
Want to bring StoryWalk to a trail near you? Vist kellogghubbard.org/storywalk and consult your local library and other literacy or education-oriented organizations about working together to install one in your community. Learn more at vermontlibraries.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/bringingsw.pdf.
StoryWalk Trails in North Carolina
Temporary StoryWalk trails pop up all the time, especially in North Carolina State Parks, so keep your eyes open for StoryWalk events in your community. Here are locations of permanent StoryWalk installations in North Carolina that are free for public use:
North Park: 849 Sharpe Rd., Burlington
Beth Schmidt Park: 2150 Elon Park Dr., Elon
Ashe County Park: 527 Ashe Park Rd., Jefferson
Canton Branch Library (mini StoryWalk): 11 Pennsylvania Ave., Canton
Vance Street Park: 430 Vance St., Waynesville
Pearson Park: 210 W. Gordon St., Kinston
Little Tennessee River Greenway: 573 E. Main St., Franklin
Horst Winkler Nature Trail at The Bascom: 323 Franklin Rd., Highlands
Independence Park: 300 Hawthorne Lane, Charlotte
Seversville Park: 530 Bruns Ave., Charlotte
Grier Heights Park: 3110 Leroy St., Charlotte
Southern Pines Public Library: 170 W Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines
New Hanover County
Hugh MacRae Park: 314 Pine Grove Dr., Wilmington
Smith Creek Park: 633 Shenandoah St., Wilmington
New Hanover County Arboretum: 6206 Oleander Dr., Wilmington
Carolina Beach Lake Park: 400 S. Lake Park Blvd., Carolina Beach
Onslow Pines Park: 1244 Onslow Pines Rd., Jacksonville
Hubert By-Pass Park: 220 Hubert Blvd., Hubert
Stump Sound Park: 1771 NC-172, Sneads Ferry
Deppe Park: 5472 New Bern Hwy., Mayesville
Richlands Steed Park: 278 Francktown Rd., Richlands
Memorial Park: 1036 Main St., Blowing Rock
The Tot Lot: 231 Complex Dr., Boone
Old Cove Creek School (spring/summer): 207 Dale Adams Rd., Sugar Grove
W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir: 499 Reservoir Rd., Wilkesboro
Elizabeth Brignac is a freelance writer and mother of two adventurous boys. She lives in Cary.