Carl Brock spent his career teaching elementary school in Ohio. While the retired teacher had never seen a StoryWalk, the Manatee County volunteer could hardly wait for a children’s book displayed page-by-page along a park trail, connecting nature with reading.
“I think this is a wonderful idea,” said Brock, who helped install Manatee County’s first-ever StoryWalk trail Wednesday. “This park seems to get a lot of traffic. A great location.”
The county’s RIP Squad volunteers began installing 16 posts Wednesday morning around a freshwater lake at Tom Bennett Park, 400 Cypress Creek Blvd. Each post will display a page from a children’s book, with about 15 to 30 paces between each stop along the quarter-mile trail.
Within the week, visitors will be able to walk along this StoryWalk and read the first book, “I Took a Walk” by Henry Cole. It’s a story about a little boy taking a walk through different habitats, including some of those present at Bennett Park, says Melissa Nell, with the county’s parks and natural resources department.
“This particular book is about taking a walk, and it’s really neat because goes through different habitats,” Nell said. “The site of this StoryWalk here at Bennett Park does go through or pass several habitats. It was a perfect match. ...Nature is amazing and beautiful and you never know what you might find if you look a bit closer.”
The books that will be featured along the StoryWalk are selected with the help of the county’s librarians, and the intent is to change out the books quarterly, Nell said. They hope to find some community partners to help with the cost associated with featuring new books.
Nature is amazing and beautiful and you never know what you might find if you look a bit closer.
Melissa Nell, Manatee County parks and natural resources department
“Our hope 100 percent is to change quarterly,” she said. “The beauty of any story: If the child is too young, the parent can read to them and look at pictures. There are some really great books out there. Our intent is to tie all the stories in with nature. That will be the common thread.”
When looking for a site for the first StoryWalk, which cost approximately $3,500, Robinson and Emerson Point preserves were considered, but county staff thought it would be a chance to get more kids out to Bennett Park.
“It is a perfect fit for out here,” Nell said. “There is a lot of wildlife that will be here for children and guardians to see.”
The idea of the StoryWalk originated from Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vt., and was developed in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg Hubbard Library, according to the StoryWalk information sheet at Bennett Park.
Bennett Park StoryWalk will hopefully be the first of many in Manatee County, Nell said.
“We really wanted to install something that would have lasting impact that people can enjoy over an extended period of time,” she said.
For the last 15 years, Bradenton resident Mike Volino has been volunteering with the RIP Squad each month. The squad started out with Removing Invasive Plants as their main focus, but over the years expanded to include many other projects.
On Wednesday, Volino was using a post hole digger in preparation of installing the StoryWalk signs at Bennett Park.
“It is going to be very good for children and adults,” he said. “It is going to be excellent.”