Powassan library introduces American-based Story Walk Project

·5 min read

The Powassan and District Union Public Library is taking a page from an American-based program to promote reading and physical activity.

It's the Story Walk Project, where each page of a children's book is attached to individual stakes lined up along a walking trail.

The goal is for parents to walk with their children on the trail and stop at each stake to read one of the pages until the end of the book is reached.

Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vt., created the Story Walk Project in 2007, with the two-fold goal of encouraging reading while getting a little family exercise at the same time.

Powassan library CEO Marie Rosset became aware of the Story Walk Project during a Zoom meeting with other library heads, but admits she wasn't receptive to the concept at first.

“I think it was Cochrane that was doing the Story Walk Project and someone also mentioned it in the past,” Rosset said.

“I thought to myself, ‘This sounds like a waste of time.’ But after giving it more thought, I said, 'This would be perfect for Powassan.'”

Rosset set about putting a proposal together for the local library board. After the board jumped at the idea, the next step was to convince council.

What Rosset needed was permission to line stakes along Park Trail and another trail in Trout Creek, which council agreed to without hesitation.

As part of her proposal to council, Rosset included a line from a letter penned by Powassan resident Mary Houghton, a strong supporter of the library, which she said captured the essence of the project.

That line reads the project “combines the joys of learning, health benefits, environmental awareness and showcases this community.”

She told The Nugget she knew it would help the proposal get accepted if elected officials knew a key resident of the community supported it.

Rosset says many communities have their respective influencers, and she believes Houghton is one of Powassan's.

Although Houghton won't be able to help out with the project, Rosset says a former high school student who worked at the library last year has volunteered to help put the program in gear.

The goal is to have the Story Walk Project stations in place by the end of May.

Rosset says at a total cost of about $1,300, the Friends of the Library committed to buy the stakes and three copies of four different book titles, as well as pay to laminate each page to protect them from the weather.

The library has bought Twig by Aura Parker, Maple and Willow Together by Lori Nichols, Jory John's The Couch Potato and a book authored by Nancy Shaw called Sheep Take a Hike.

The books are intended for six- to 10-year-old boys and girls. Each page has as few words as possible, coupled with pictures, because, Rosset says, “you want to hold their attention.”

“If it's too long or there are too many details, you'll lose them.”

That's why the maximum page count per book is 30 pages.

On why three copies of each book were acquired, Rosset explained that since the pages have pictures and words on both sides, one copy will be used to display the odd numbered pages, while the second will highlight the even numbered pages.

She adds that all the pages are laminated individually and placed on stakes.

Pages from the third copy will be kept on standby to serve as replacements in case any of the pages on the trail are damaged.

Rosset says having four book titles allows the library to also put up Story Walk Project pages in Nipissing Township and Chisholm Township.

In the case of Chisholm, the rollout is a little different and may be more elaborate.

Chisholm Coun. Bernadette Kerr says the local recreation committee is looking into the cost of materials and considering different designs for the reading stations.

Kerr says the committee wants the stations to be substantial and possibly year-round. No final decision has been made yet, but she says early indications are that the reading stations in Chisholm would be located along the Laporte Trail.

The Chisholm public works department will erect the reading stations once they're ready.

Additionally, Kerr says some thought is being given to having historical data about the township either combined with the Story Walk Project reading stations or left as standalone features.

“We are quite excited with the concept as it provides an opportunity for learning, exercise and entertainment in a manner where people can respect social distance to fit the current times, but certainly will maintain its value after we return to a less restrictive way of life,” Kerr said.

Although Chisholm is considering a four-season model for the Story Walk Project, Rosset says the reading stations on the trails of Powassan, Trout Creek and Nipissing will come down each winter.

She says the pages may be placed in storefront windows during the winter on Main Street in Powassan to increase downtown foot traffic or along snowshoe trails to increase winter sports activity.

Rosset says with four books for four communities, each book can stay at one location for two to three weeks before being switched out for another book.

“That can cover an eight- to 12-week period of reading,” Rosset said.

Rosset says if the other libraries in Almaguin latch on to the Story Walk Project, then that's more books that can be shared in a wider area, which helps keep costs down even further.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget