StoryWalk installed at Lake Sara Beach

May 3—As part of an effort to improve literacy and promote physical activity among Effingham's younger residents, a StoryWalk has been installed along a trail at Lake Sara Beach.

Residents gathered at the StoryWalk Friday afternoon to take part in a launch party and get a first look at the newest addition to the beach.

Getting a StoryWalk at Lake Sara has been a collaborative effort between the Effingham Public Library and Effingham Masonic Lodge 149. The project has been led primarily by Michael Williamson, the former master and current treasurer of Effingham Masonic Lodge 149, and his wife, Effingham Public Library Director Amanda McKay Williamson.

"Our intent was to provide a place for families to come and enjoy nature together," Michael Williamson said.

"We've been kind of dreaming this for a while," Amanda McKay Williamson.

The project cost approximately $9,000. The majority of the funds for the StoryWalk came from a grant that was awarded for the project through the Illinois Masonic Children's Assistance Program, and some additional funds were raised through small fundraisers.

Amanda McKay Williamson had seen other libraries create similar StoryWalks and decided that Effingham should have one of its own. After she brought the idea to Michael Williamson, he got the lodge involved.

"A lot of libraries have these," Amanda McKay Williamson said.

"It had come up, and she thought it'd be a neat thing to do," Michael Williamson said. "I organized volunteers from the lodge to come out, and we set the posts last fall."

Approximately every month, the Effingham Public Library will put pages from different books along the StoryWalk, so visitors don't have to read the same book every time they walk along the trail.

"They bought several books, so they'll be able to do a rotation," Michael Williamson said.

The StoryWalk was officially completed Thursday, when the library placed laminated pages from the book "The Rainbow Fish" by Marcus Pfister in the frames on top of each post.

Additionally, the StoryWalk is ADA compliant and its posts were installed at a height that allows smaller children to see each page of the book they're reading.

"Anybody can see it," Michael Williamson said.

Considering the many recent changes made at Lake Sara Pearson Peninsula Park, which include new playgrounds and pickleball courts, organizers reached out to Tom Ryan from Lake Sara Forever, a group that has been working to transform Lake Sara Beach, before following through with any plans.

"The trail wasn't even here yet. It was about two years ago," Michael Williamson said. "He was on board, so we moved forward with the grant."

"The Lake Sara Forever group has been so great to work with, so easy. They were so excited when the library and the Masons approached them with this idea," Amanda McKay Williamson said.

Michael Williamson explained that while the library has done a StoryWalk before, this is the first permanent one to be installed in the city, and both he and Amanda McKay Williamson are happy to finally see people enjoying the StoryWalk after years of planning.

"We just really like the combination of people getting out in nature and learning something along the way," Amanda McKay Williamson said.

"I think it's a great thing. I think it will have a positive impact on a lot of kids. That's our intent," Michael Williamson said.

Several families made their way through the StoryWalk during the launch party. Among these attendees were Linda Will of Effingham and her 8-year-old grandson, Jerron Vogt. Will picks Vogt up from school most days and said she was looking for something fun for them to do together Friday.

"We just started on it, but it's pretty nice," Will said. "He's in the second grade, so it's good for him to practice his reading."

Another Effingham resident who went to Lake Sara Beach to check out the StoryWalk, Kerrie Jewell, brought along her 5-year-old daughter, Lakota Jewell, and 3-year-old son, Tommy Jewell. Kerrie Jewell said that in addition to wanting to see the StoryWalk with her children, she went there to support Effingham Masonic Lodge 149 because several of her relatives are members.

"It's awesome," Kerrie Jewell said. "It's right up our alley."

Lakota Jewell said her favorite thing about the StoryWalk was seeing illustrations of the rainbow fish from the book she read.

"It's so sparkly," Lakota Jewell said.

Nick Taylor can be reached at