December 5, 2021

Story Walk in Groton educates children in natural setting

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Kristin Prugh and her 4-year-old daughter, Violet, stop Friday afternoon to read a sign along the Story Walk trail in the village of Groton. The trail is one of several that help parents and children combine reading with a bit of exercise.

GROTON — Kristin Prugh works as a teacher in the Dryden School District. But on a recent sunny afternoon, a walking trail in Groton was her classroom and her student was her 4-year-old daughter, Violet.

The two stopped at several points for Kristin Prugh to read to Violet pages from a book posted along the trail as part of a new education program.

A Tompkins County non-profit offers an activity to get children and families outside and reading at the same time: Story Walk, including one in the village of Groton. The walk takes apart a book, laminating the pages and posting them on board every 40 or so paces on a nature trail, said Amber Smith, executive director of Family Reading Partnership.

Groton’s quarter-mile trail is behind the pool at Memorial Park on Sykes Street, but others are in Dryden, Enfield, Newfield and Danby. The walks are geared for infants to early elementary school kids, but the one in Groton is suggested for ages 3 and up because of a hill.

The idea was trademarked by the Kellogg Hubbard library in Vermont. Smith said she got the idea from the Story Walk setup at the Ellis Hollow Nature Preserve in Dryden when she was a private nanny.

“I just loved going up there with kids and reading the stories,” she said. “I always had it in the back of my mind that I’d love to see Tompkins County have more of them.”

Janet Watkins, who co-wrote the children’s book “Izzy’s Groton Adventure” with Mona Forney, approached Smith and suggested using her book, which welcomes readers to the village and details places they can go.

Watkins, who owns Brittany Station gift shop in Groton, donated 50 copies when the walk opened Aug. 2.

“With the Groton Library closed due to COVID, I thought it was easier to have these books available for kids to grab and take on the walk,” she said.

The United Way of Tompkins County, contributed $1,500 for the project, Smith said. Books on the walk will be changed four times a year.

Kids get antsy being cooped up inside and a Story Walk puts kids into an imaginative adventure, said Tammy Sickmon, the youth services librarian at Cortland Free Library who runs a Story Walk every week.

“This type of walk is a good way of combining pictures and illustration in books while being outside,” she said. “Instead of story time outside or virtually, the stories are being read outdoors.”

So far the reaction to the Story Walk in Groton has been good, said Watkins.

“A little girl came into my store one day and said she found a pinecone on the trail as she was reading the pages,” she said. “And the mother was interested in some of the places noted in the book that are Groton because she never heard of them before.”

City Editor Kevin Conlon contributed to this report.