Pages in the park: The Berea Story Trail experience

Apr. 20—Sunny skies signal family time at local parks, complete with energetic kids and big smiles. One local destination that might fit the bill for an afternoon stroll is the Berea Story Trail.

The story trail features a book broken up into pieces along a the walking path at Berea City Park. The pages are displayed in frames, and readers have to walk the trail to finish the book.

Berea Story Trail was founded in 2019 by local artist Heather Dent, a Berea College graduate who works to brings accessible nature education and art to the community.

"The first time I ever saw or heard of a story trail was when I visited the Lexington Arboretum," recounted Dent. "They had this adorable picture book about a chameleon featured."

Dent vividly remembered how her son, then eight years old, eagerly dashed from sign to sign to absorb the storybook adventure.

This experience planted the seed for her own vision of crafting a similar trail.

Opportunity knocked a few months later when Dent participated in the Air Institute Program, collaborating with the city to secure funds to actualize her dream in Berea.

In its five-year journey, the trail has showcased over 35 books. The selection rotates eight to ten times annually, with more frequent changes during the summer when kids are on vacation.

Dent herself manages this project, switching out stories sponsored by organizations like the Madison County Public Library and various departments at the college including the Center for Excellence in Learning Through Service (CELTS), and the Carter G Woodson Center.

Dent remarked, "You will find me at the story trail with my little red wagon and an allen wrench putting up new stories in all kinds of weather."

The work is worth it to Dent, who hopes that the entire community comes out to see the stories she lovingly plants in the park.

"It fills me with joy every time I walk by and see a family enjoying the story trail. It's hard to know for certain just how many people are impacted, but I like that visitors can enjoy it anonymously," expressed Dent. "The whole point is to provide an accessible outdoor experience for all with no strings attached."

Dent's personal struggle with dyslexia fuels her dedication. A fellow parent shared an anecdote with her:

"I have enjoyed walking for pleasure, but my children do not share that joy. When Heather founded the Berea Story Trail, suddenly my littlest daughter was eager to accompany me on my walks. While it was a thrill to share my hobby with my child, it was particularly moving because she has a reading disability, which usually results in a disdain for books. Reading is my ultimate hobby, and books are my career, so it lifted my spirits to finally have a way to connect with her around books through the story trail."

For Dent, the core message she wishes to impart, particularly to burgeoning readers, is clear: "There is no right or wrong way to read. Combining books and nature makes literacy come alive and engages people who otherwise might choose not to read."

The latest addition to the Berea Story Trail is the book "Old Rock (is not so boring)" by Deb Pilutti, sponsored by CELTS and selected by Berea College student Felizitas Moore.