By Douglas Maxwell Myer, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Near the center of Northborough lies Assabet Park, a popular destination for kids to spend time at the playground and splash pond from the spring to fall. Up above the park lies a hill with a woodland environment with a trail that extends approximately half a mile. In the near future, this area will be used for year-round “StoryWalks” for children and adults to combine reading and exploring the outdoors.
A StoryWalk is an initiative in which pages of a book are separated, laminated and mounted on stakes placed along a trail. The concept was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vt., and developed in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg-Hubbard Library.
MaryEllen Remillard, librarian at Marion E. Zeh Elementary School, received a grant of $400 from the Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce which will be used to help finance StoryWalks at Assabet Park Trail. She first became intrigued with the concept while seeing a similar program successfully carried out at the Rail Trail in West Boylston and attending a conference on childhood obesity. The idea of combining fitness and literacy proved to be a perfect match for Remillard and she became eager to establish StoryWalks in Northborough.
“The StoryWalks would be made up of various genres of children’s books,” Remillard said. “In the past we have done children’s picture books, poetry books – both adult and children’s – and we’ve chosen books depending on the seasons or various books we deem most enticing to children and parents.”
During the 2010-2011 academic year, she created three walks on a popular Northborough trail, at Mount Pisgah, and on the Zeh School grounds.
Nancy Kellner, library teacher at the Marguerite E. Peaslee School and an avid hiker, decided that she wanted to be a part of the project. This past summer, Remillard and Kellner approached the children’s librarian at the Northborough Free Library, Laura Brennan, and the Northborough StoryWalk project was born.
Northborough has since hosted several community-wide StoryWalks, one on the Stirrup Book Trail and another on the Proctor Trail at the Edmund Hill Trails system.
In addition, an intergenerational poetry StoryWalk was set up at a trail close to the Northborough Senior Center that had a collection of adult poems and nursery rhymes.
A guest book was set up at each walk so hikers could sign and leave messages for future travelers.
Organizers hope to be able to leave story pages out longer during inclement weather by erecting permanent structures along the routes. With these structures, StoryWalk pages would be better protected from the weather and they could be changed periodically throughout the different seasons.
“The permanent ones would require less monitoring and Northborough residents would become familiar with the location of the StoryWalks,” Remillard noted. “My hope is that it would become a well-known piece of outdoor entertainment for residents and other people passing through the area.”
Zachary Youssef, a Boy Scout from Troop 1 in Northborough, has selected this task as his Eagle Project. Recently, he received diagrams of kiosks from the Trail Committee. His next step is to scale down the designs and calculate a proper budget. Then he will write up a proposal and present it to the local Scouting Council by spring. If the proposal is approved, construction should start soon after.
“I hope to inspire families, children and individuals to get outside and enjoy nature, exercise, reading and most importantly each other,” Remillard said. “I believe that hiking is a great stress reducer and it allows families and friends quality time for one-on-one communication.”
Based on feedback, organizers plan to offer StoryWalks seasonally, varying the trails and locations. They are also considering creating a walk specifically for Northborough’s active senior citizens, many of whom walk the Northborough trails regularly.