By Scott Hennelly - January 11, 2016
Homestead Parklands on Perch Lake has become the new home of the Bookworm Trail, a half mile nature walk that gives kids the opportunity to read books in a wild setting.
And the original idea aptly came from—a book.
"It really developed from a book I read called Last Child In The Woods," said St. Croix County Resource Managment Administrator Bob Heise. "After reading the book, I decided that we [St. Croix County Staff] could do a lot more in our parks to provide the opportunity for younger generations to get more involved with our natural world."
With plans starting back in 2013, Heise and his colleague Justin Townsend drew inspiration from Sheboygan's Bookworm Gardens and brainstormed where they could build a similar project in their own county. Being the manager of Homestead Park, Townsend found it to be the ideal location to build a series of structures for reading and outdoor exploration.
"The main attraction is the water—Perch Lake is an outstanding water resource. It's also 80 acres of oak savanna prairie, pine plantations, and hardwood forests," said Townsend. Heise also added that, "the trail is surrounded by natural prairie, so putting these structures in seemed fitting."
Each structure is unique, with names like Wetland Wisdom, Bird is the Word, Fairytale House, Homesteader Cabin, and the Secret Garden. In each of these structures, kids can find new books to read each week from May through October.
To find the materials and people to build the structures, Townsend asked his community for contributions—which came quite easily.
"There has been a long history of people supporting Homestead Park and families and generations coming there. So finding people who were interested in doing something like this was not very hard," said Townsend.
Where contributions came from were as unique as the structures themselves. Materials and volunteer builders came from clubs and organizations such as the St. Croix Valley Birding Club, St. Croix County Home & Community Education Club, St. Croix Valley Master Gardeners, local Rotary Clubs, and Boy Scout Troop 213.
After all structures were completed during the 2015 summer, Aleisha Miller, the Environmental Educator for St. Croix County, began planning events to get kids and their parents outside to use it. Miller started by contacting local libraries and authors to read their books to kids. One author who agreed was Jean Clausen, who read her book Ahhh Water that teaches the importance of water and its need for conservation.
Miller hopes authors continue to participate and that the environmental theme stays constant too.
"We have this wide range of books and hopefully over time these books will filter into having to do more with the outdoors. Each structure having a nature book about frogs, trees, or flowers. . . and also another book that might be Pete The Cat or Curious George," said Miller.
While Heise has seen more people using the trail, he wishes more people were aware of it. "I think Aleisha and Justin have done a great job in terms of promoting it and trying to create some events. What I'm hoping to see is our community, our libraries, and our schools taking advantage of this more," said Heise.
Overall, the trail has been successful in creating bookworms around the County—both young and old.
"The whole idea behind this was that parents, grandparents, and siblings just take time with the younger generation and spend time with them and read a book. And read it in a natural, outdoor setting where they can ask questions and learn at the same time," said Heise.