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Library Brings Storytime to the Great Outdoors

Visitors to Douglas’s North Platte River Walk can take in many sites. The walk affords excellent views of the river, maybe the occasional bit of wildlife. But in these last few months, the visual landscape has had the added feature of the Converse County Library’s Story Walk panels. Installed mid-summer, these panels share a story from station to station, encouraging children and parent alike to read while they walk. Speaking with CCL Director Cindy Moore and Assistant Director Jes Renz about the project we learned a great deal about how it all began, how it’s maintained and what the Library hopes to see for it’s continued success!

“I had read about this concept of Story Walk which was created by Anne Ferguson out of Montpelier, Vermont. I thought ‘what a great idea for us!’ and we have such a beautiful river walk, and I thought it would just be a great addition. So I mentioned it to my board,” recalled Cindy Moore. “They took it and ran with it. Then the Rotary wanted a part of it, Parks and Rec. Finally, we went to the City, and they said 'what a good idea!'”

The process of creating the stations was a project where all of the various civic organizations involved helped in a myriad of different ways. Moore continued: “Everybody pitched in, and it was wonderful. The Rotary picked up the cost of the posts and the stations, the Parks and Recreation crew dug the post holes.”

But how to adorn the stations, and which books? That was a question that fell squarely to Assistant Library Director Jes Renz. Noting that the River Walk attracts a broad range of ages and stages, the library staff works to choose books that will appeal to a variety of children.

"We focus our selections on children three to eight years of age. We also have to watch how many pages the selection will have to make sure it will fit the number of stations we have,” said Renz. “And then, we work by adding in something that is colorful and draws the eye and has a good story. So I think everybody wants to stop and read it. We were originally thinking of three to eight, however, the story is good enough that a younger child will be engaged. My son is only one, but he wants to stop at every stop. He gets excited!”

For this, the library staff works especially to make sure the selections meet the needs not only of the age group, have enough pages to be installed, but as well the content is a motivator to keep those feet moving. “Olivia [the first book installed] was intriguing because you wondered ‘what's going to happen next?’ I think that one got people going and now they're going out and discovering that there's a new story. They were excited to see it at first and then, I went to the doctor the other day, and someone said, ‘I just saw you put a new story out. I have to take my kids now.’”

The storybooks don’t come ready out of the box, and working those pages into the various panels is an art form in and of itself. “You do have to sometimes cut words from pages, paste them over here. It's a little pick and chooses. Crystal's good at it,” stated Renz. “We don't want to manipulate the story in any way, so we don't lose any pages. You will still read the entire story, just sometimes the words will be used on this page, and you'll miss a picture. But you do get all the words.”

The staff is working to develop plans for the coming seasons to keep the project progressing. “We hope to keep it out there as long as we can. We have some Halloween ideas. We're brainstorming a haunted parade, to put up a Halloween story. Everybody comes in their costume,” said Jes. And pointing their sights towards next year, the hope is to get 12 to 14 stories out through spring and summer. Further noting that winters around Wyoming can prove unusually harsh, Jes added, “Over the winter, we might leave one story out there and as long as it lasts. But we don't want them to get torn up, and we want it to look presentable. So we'll check on it every so often throughout the winter,” concluded Renz.

Realizing that our area in Douglas is just one part of a larger whole, Cindy Moore added that Glenrock as well could see a Story Walk installation soon with stories exchanged between the two towns. As for the feedback from the community and plans for the future, Moore had this to say: “I didn't expect it. I just thought it's a great idea. I liked it, it was a favorite of mine, but I think that the response has been terrific. We've heard great things, and it's just nice to see. It's nice to have some positive feedback, so I'm pleased.”

Be sure to head down to the River Walk and check out this month’s story: “Pete the Cat” and keep your eyes peeled for the next installment in the weeks ahead. Our thanks to the Library Staff, Cindy Moore, and Jes Renz for their time for this article.