StoryWalk for Young Readers Opens in Niles Park

NILES, Ohio – A new attraction in town makes reading a walk in the park for youngsters.

StoryWalk was unveiled Tuesday at Stevens Park. It’s a series of 18 small signs, spaced 50 feet apart on both sides of a paved trail. Each signpost holds a laminated page from a children’s picture book and a question for children designed to make them think. When the child has come to the end of the StoryWalk, they will have read the entire book.

The project is a joint effort by Niles McKinley Memorial Library and the city parks department.

“It’s a nice activity for families to get out of the house if the weather is good,” said Michelle Alleman, director of the library.

The initial book in the StoryWalk is “The Favorite Book” by author-illustrator Bethanie Deeney Murguia. It’s a picture book, with a sentence or two on every page, about how certain things become a person’s favorite.

“The Favorite Book” will remain in the StoryWalk through the end of December, Alleman said. After that, the book will change every month.

All of the books are aimed at children age 3 to 7. The library will take suggestions for future titles and will have copies that can be signed out, Alleman said.

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On hand for the ribbon-cutting were Meredith Elliott, Library board President John Yuhasz, Jeffrey Thomas, Carlie Adams, Dana Butto, parks Director Mark Pallante, Library Director Michelle Alleman, Niles Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz, Harry Salapata, Ryan McNaughton and Sheri Smith.

Installation of the StoryWalk cost about $5,000, with the library paying for the installation. “Due to the pandemic, we can’t do some of our programming,” Allmeman said. “Instead of using funds that we normally would have used for our summer reading program, we put it toward this StoryWalk.”

The parks department cleaned and widened the trail and the electric department installed the LED light fixtures that run the length of the StoryWalk.

“The trees were overgrown and there was lots of brush along the trail,” said Mark Pallante, parks director. 

The StoryWalk is just the latest improvement to the park, which is at the end of North Crandon Avenue.

“We just added pickleball courts [in October],” Pallante said. The park also has two tennis courts, a soccer field, a playground and a cabin shelter.

“This park gets a lot of use, and we are trying to get more use out of our parks by having more things to offer,” Pallante said.

StoryWalk is an idea that has proven popular across the globe. They now exist in all 50 states and at least a dozen countries.

The first StoryWalk was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, in 2007 and was developed with the help of Rachel Senechal of Kellogg-Hubbard Library in that city.

The idea for the Niles StoryWalk started when Pallante read a story about the project in a Florida community, and approached McKinley library’s Alleman.

In the coming months, Alleman expects to partner with Niles schools on student art and writing projects that can be displayed in the StoryWalk. She also plans to install a small free library stand at the end of the StoryWalk trail.

The Niles StoryWalk joins similar attractions at libraries in the Mahoning Valley, including Kinsman, Boardman, Poland, Lake Milton and Youngstown’s East, and also at Boardman Park and the bike trail in Lowellville.

Pictured at top: The first sign marker in the new StoryWalk in Stevens Park in Niles. Each of the 18 markers bears a page from a children’s book, with a question designed to spur discussion. The first book in the StoryWalk is “The Favorite Book” by Bethanie Deeney Murguia.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.