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Montpelier Program Makes Reading a Walk in the Park

State of the Arts


Published July 2, 2008 at 5:01 a.m.

Anne Ferguson and Nancy Schulz
  • Anne Ferguson and Nancy Schulz

It's a tale with a happy beginning, a troubled middle, and knock wood - a happy ending.

Last fall, Montpelier's Anne Ferguson, a specialist in chronic disease prevention for the Vermont Department of Health, came up with the novel idea of combining reading with exercise and not the magazine-propped-on-a-treadmill type, either. A proponent of getting people out of the house and into the fresh air, Ferguson concocted kid-aimed StoryWalk, which is brilliant in its simplicity. She removes the pages from a children's book, laminates them, mounts them on stakes, and places those stakes, Burma-Shave-sign-style, in their correct sequence along walkways.

Montpelier's Hubbard Park was the site of the program's successful launch last October. Hikers stumbled on David Ezra Stein's "Leaves," the story of a young bear's first autumn. Though the story is geared toward toddlers, and the pages are mounted at a 3-year-old's eye level, Ferguson says grownups enjoyed the StoryWalk as much as kids. "I thought it would be something that families with young children would gravitate toward, but it's turning out that adults are enjoying it, too. This one guy wrote [in the comment book placed at the last page]: 'I'm 55, and I'm a guy, and you made my day,'" she says with a laugh.

The program's simplicity doesn't make it cheap to maintain the cost is about $80 per StoryWalk display, Ferguson estimates. Because of copyright laws, Ferguson can't photocopy pages for a StoryWalk, but must purchase two copies of each book, since the pages are printed back to back. A Vermont Humanities Council grant last September helped buy the first books and supplies. Since then, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont has ponied up $4410 for the program.

More than a dozen StoryWalks have popped up along walkways in Montpelier, Stowe, Burlington, Brattleboro, Moretown, Waterbury, Plainfield, Warren, Shelburne and Orange since last fall. But the otherwise happy StoryWalk plot took an ugly turn on the Stowe recreation path and again on Montpelier's Main Street when vandals trashed or stole some of the pages and stakes, says Nancy Schulz, executive director of the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition. (She oversees StoryWalk, along with Ferguson and Rachel Senechal of Montpelier's Kellogg-Hubbard Library.) When pages are damaged or stolen, Ferguson has to buy a replacement book.

Ferguson and Schulz say that, while the Stowe and Montpelier experiences are unfortunate, their enthusiasm for the program hasn't flagged. This past weekend, Ferguson was busy installing a StoryWalk at the site of the program's birthplace in Hubbard Park.

"I don't think it was anybody acting against StoryWalk," she says of the vandals. "It's not going to keep me from doing this, because I think this is a great thing to do."