Hey, mom and dad. What would you think about taking your kid or kiddos on a short hike where, along the pathway, colorful illustrations teach your youngsters about the creatures that inhabit the neighborhood?

Long Hunter State Park has just the place. The Reading Ranger Story Trail, which debuts at 11 a.m. Saturday, pairs Mother Nature with literacy and exercise and challenges your kids to stretch their legs and imaginations.

The brainchild of Long Hunter park ranger Leslie Anne Rawlings, the Story Trail shares Marianne Berkes' children's book Over in the Forest: Come and Take a Peek. It features 10 colorful signs depicting deer, possums, turkeys, box turtles, squirrels, woodpeckers, raccoons, skunks, red fox and beaver--all critters that live in the park--and even shows their little tracks.

The Reading Ranger Story Trail is also a first for Tennessee State Parks, a coup for Long Hunter.

LHSP the perfect location

Rawlings, who has been at Long Hunter for the past 18 months, previously served as a ranger at Radnor Lake in Nashville for 10 years. She had been carrying the idea around in her head for six or seven years, ever since she had seen a story trail at Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio.

"I knew it would not work at Radnor Lake because there was no good loop trial, no good area to support it," Rawlings said. "So when I came to Long Hunter and hiked this little quarter-mile nature loop, I said, 'Here's my trail,' and it's in one of most popular areas of the park so I knew it would be perfect.

"I sprung it on the boss [Long Hunter Park manager Jeff Buchanan]. He said, 'I love it. Get busy.' The thing is it is so easy and simple to do, and I knew it would put Long Hunter on the map and draw attention from the folks in Nashville. Warner Parks has something a little similar, but no other state park has this. We are the first one to do it."

Grand opening Saturday

Long Hunter State Park's Reading Ranger Story Trail gets an official opening with a ribbon cutting at 11 a.m. Saturday with fun and games that will continue until 2 p.m. (the park is 7½ miles south of I-40 at Mt. Juliet). The trail, an easy one-quarter-mile wooded path is located in Area 2 beside the Couchville Lake parking lot.

Children will be able to visit with Tennessee State Parks' mascot Ramble Raccoon. Folks can enjoy self-guided tours of the trail, and parents may register their children with Books From Birth with Imagination Library representatives. Also, there will be guided tours on the hour and half hour, and park rangers will conduct "Animal Tales" at noon and 1 p.m.

"I plan on doing lots of programs around this and guided tours, and we'll pick out one of the animals, like a skunk, and do a craft," said Rawlings.

"The signs offer beautiful piece of artwork and shows the animals in action and sample of their little tracks. I think the skunk is one of the funniest ones because it tells about spraying stinky stuff on an evergreen pine."

An example of the verse on one of the signs reads as follows:

Over in the forest

Where they ate very late

Lived a mother raccoon

And her little kits eight.

"Dunk" said the mother.

"We dunk," said the eight.

So they dunked and they dabbled

As they ate very late.

Book rewrites traditional song

As for how Rawlings selected Marianne Berkes' Over in the Forest: Come and Take a Peek as the inaugural book for the Story Trail, she said it began with a trip to the Mt. Juliet Library where she gathered a nest of children's book and began flipping through them.

Rawlings said that Berkes' book drew her interest because "the artwork was beautiful, bright and very attention-grabbing. It literally made me cry when I read it because I love music, and what the author did was base this story on a children's song, "Over in the Meadow." She basically rewrote the lyrics. It's a rhyme or poem.

"I starting reading, and the goosebumps came. She used the real names of the young animals like a baby deer is called a fawn and a baby fox is called a kit. Pretty cool."

MJ Librarian helps with suggestion

When she explained what she was doing with library director Tracy Horvath, the librarian suggested she pick a book from a smaller publishing company because a small publisher would be ecstatic about her idea.

Horvath noted that Berke's book was indeed from a small company, so Rawlings called a representative at Dawn Publications, and the publishing company loved the idea and quickly emailed her a pdf of the book, which came in handy for helping produce the signs on the trail.

Rawlings said, "I hope the Story Trail is something people will want to come and do over and over again. That kids will just beg their mamas, 'let's go to the park and see the story signs again.' I love the fact that it's getting them outside and some exercise and teaching them reading skills and about animals. I'm hoping we can get more visitors to come to the park and want to stay and do other things, too."

The ranger plans to select a new book annually, so "Over in the Forest" will come down late this year, and signs will go up with another nature-related tale. Rawlings also hopes this project will encourage other state parks and the Imagination Library folks to partner on more story trails across Tennessee.

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Story Trail grand opening

The Reading Ranger Story Trail at Long Hunter State Park debuts with fun and games 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the park (7½ miles south of I-40 at Mt. Juliet).

This innovative program, in conjunction with Wilson County Library's Mt. Juliet branch, combines outdoor exercise and Marianne Berkes' children's book Over in the Forest: Come and Take a Peek. Children can enjoy the engaging artwork by Jill Dubin as 10 signs along the trail reveal the story of baby animals and their parents.

Located in Area 2 beside the Couchville Lake parking lot, the Reading Ranger Story Trail is an easy one-quarter-mile wooded path and will be accessible daily during regular park hours (7 a.m.-sunset) until Oct. 31.

On Saturday, the trail dedication and ribbon cutting will commence at 11 a.m. Ongoing activities from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. include animal crafts, games, a visit with Tennessee State Parks' mascot Ramble Raccoon, self-guided tours of the trail and registering children with Books From Birth with Imagination Library representatives. Also, there will be guided tours on the hour and half hour, and park rangers will conduct "Animal Tales" at noon and 1 p.m.

All activities take place rain or shine. The Reading Ranger Story Trail can be accessed via the main park entrance located at 2910 Hobson Pike (South Mt. Juliet Road). For more information, contact the park office at (615) 885-2422.

© 2016 The Wilson Post

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