At the edge of the woods, children clambered over an old rock wall and gathered around a tree to read the first page of the story. Laminated and posted on a trunk, the page featured a drawing of two mice.
“Luna and Kale were playing beside their rock wall home where they had lived their whole lives,” the story went. “They suddenly heard a tremendous rumble, like thunder. So they ran into the forest.”
Following the mice on their journey, the children hiked into the woods of Greenbie Natural Area in Castine, following the trail as it weaved through a sea of ferns.
The story, “Little Mouse in the Big Forest,” was recently created by students at Adams School in Castine. It’s a fictional hero’s journey, but the tale highlights natural features seen along the trail and includes interesting facts about the environment. Posted on the half-mile public hiking trail in early June, the story is a part of a “story walk” trend that has been spreading throughout the country.
“It’s about getting kids out in nature, getting them moving and observing their environment when we worry so much about all the screen time that they’re getting,” Jenn Jackson, who teaches language arts and social studies at Adams School, said. “I feel that these kids have got some real ownership of this trail now.”
Posting story pages along public trails in sequential order is becoming increasingly popular, with many people drawing their inspiration from The StoryWalk Project, founded in 2007 by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, with the help of Rachel Senechal, program and development coordinator at Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, Vermont.
“It’s such a simple idea, but people love it,” Senechal said. “It’s an easy way to get people outside, get people walking and reading. It’s just a really wonderful way to tick off three important things: being outside, literacy and physical activity.”
Ferguson trademarked the term StoryWalk and requests anyone who use it to include a specific statement of attribution about the project’s origin. At the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, she and Senechal have transformed 40 books into StoryWalks, which are loaned to schools and organizations throughout Vermont, just like a regular library book.
It’s perfectly legal to disassemble books, laminate the pages and mount them as signs along trails, according to StoryWalk’s online resource sheet, but because of copyright laws, the book’s original pages must be used. Books can’t be altered, scanned or reproduced in any way without the permission of the publisher. For that reason, Senechal suggests people try to work with local authors and publishers, since it’s often much easier to read a story on trail if the pages are enlarged.
Such was the case at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center in Falmouth, where books from the Maine Audubon’s “Wildlife on the Move” series have recently been converted into story walks, their pages enlarged and temporarily posted on nature trails throughout the property. Of the four books in the series, “A Blanding’s Turtle Story” is currently on display.
A story walk is also located at the Town Forest in Cumberland. Spaced out along a 0.75-mile trail, permanent page holders display a new story every month.
But most story walks are temporary, lasting only a few months at a time. In recent years, story walks have been erected on Mount Agamenticus in York, Haystack Mountain in Liberty, Inland Woods Trail in Waterville, the cross-country trails of Lincoln Academy and many other locations throughout Maine. In late June, a story walk of the iconic children’s book “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney was posted by the Buck Memorial Library along the public trail on the Bucksport Waterfront.
Posted in June 15, the story walk “Little Mouse in the Big Forest” will stay up throughout the summer and into the fall at Greenbie Natural Area on The Shore Road in Castine.
“I hope it shows people different ways of looking at the forest,” Annelise Small, who just completed fifth grade at Adams School, said. “Like, when you see a tree and you think, oh, it’s just a tree, but then if you look close enough, you can see, oh, it’s shaped like a four or it has six trunks and looks like a cage. These are examples from the story, actually.”
Annelise was one of 24 students in grades five through eight at Adams School who worked together to create the story.
“It was a group effort, I think we all did a little part of the story, even if it was really tiny,” Annelise said. “I especially like the part I did but it’s really cool to see other people’s ideas as well.”
To create the story, the students first visited the property and took note of natural features they wanted to draw visitors’ attention to — the old rock wall, an ancient maple tree, a blueberry bush — then they worked in class to develop a plot and characters. In addition to the two mice, the story includes a wise barred owl, a hoard of invasive beetles, a bee colony and a pesky squirrel.
“I hope that people enjoy the trail and they learn some stuff about the forest here in Castine,” Charlotte Griffith, who just completed sixth grade at Adams School, said. “And the people who come here in the summer, I hope they learn more about Maine.”
“I just hope it gives a family a good time,” chimed in fifth-grade graduate Logan Spratt.
The story walk was created in partnership with the Blue Hill Heritage Trust, which maintains the trail at Greenbie Natural Area.
“[Story walks] are a way to get people who are hiking a trail to slow down and really look at nature,” Chrissy Beardsley Allen, development and outreach director for the Blue Hill Heritage Trust, said. “People get on a trail and start busting it to the end and back. So few people really look around.”
The Castine story walk was actually modeled after a story walk created two years ago on another BHHT property, Peter’s Cove Trail in Blue Hill. The story, titled “Leaf: A Magical Tale,” was written by the children and teens in 52 Weeks of Giving, a Blue Hill Public Library Program where kids can make a positive impact on their community by doing volunteer projects.
“It’s empowering to do something nice for the community, and it’s not always an opportunity kids get,” Allen said. “I’d love to do something like this with lots of different schools and libraries on the peninsula.”
If she does, the Blue Hill Peninsula will be filled with fantastical, original tales that draw people into the area’s wild places and make imaginations soar. To enjoy them all, you’ll just have to walk the trails.
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