Local school, library unveil story trail at park

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Reading and walking might not seem like two interconnected hobbies, but at Municipal Park they are.  That is because the park annually plays host to a story trail.

The trail, which stands next to the paved multi-purpose path that winds through the park, contains an illustrated story.  Each year, third graders from Pataskala Elementary (NJ) create the story as part of an effort backed by the Pataskala Public Library and the city.

The partners unveiled this year's new trail during a community event at the park, which stands just east of downtown at the intersection of Mill Street and Township Road/Creek Road.

A crowd of more than 350 people, many of them Pataskala Elementary students and parents, attended the unveiling of the trail, titled "Pataskala A to Z: An Alphabet Book About Our Hometown."

Each of the trail's panels contains two letters and corresponding illustrations drawn by the school's students.

The first panel covers the letters A and B, with the A representing agriculture and B the annual Battle for Broad Street between the Licking Heights and Watkins Memorial varsity football teams.  "We took Pataskala as a whole, so the story represents the entire city," Pataskala Elementary teacher Suzanne Hayes said.

This marked the third year the library asked Pataskala Elementary to create the trail.

Library Fiscal Officer and Director Jeff Rothweiler said he gets excited about seeing a new trail installed in the park each year.  "For the school to come up with a different story each year and new illustrations, too, I get excited about seeing their creativity," Rothweiler said. "It's fun to see."

Rothweiler added the library regularly receives positive feedback from residents who visit the trail.  "We do get feedback," he said. "They'll say, 'I was walking down the trail and saw the story. It was great.'"

Pataskala Elementary tasks its students with creating a different story each year.  In 2015, the school's students created a story that revolved around 13 downtown businesses. The students visited the businesses before creating the 13 panels.

This year, as Hayes referenced, they focused on the things that define Pataskala.  "Part of the third-grade social studies curriculum is local history, so we (incorporate) that," said Hayes, adding the school's art teacher, Julie Gold, also plays an important role in the project.

The school doesn't reveal which students had their art selected for the trail until the grand unveiling.  It even covers up the panels in the lead up to the event.

Once the covers were lifted on May 25, students ran up and down the trail checking to see if their panel made the final cut.

The surprise aspect of the unveiling never gets old, Rothweiler said.  "It's always fun seeing the reaction of the kids," he said.

On May 25, third-graders Emily Whitmer and Sam Eikens were joined by members of their families, including their proud mothers, as they searched out a panel with the letters S and T. Whitmer created the art for the letter T, highlighting the word theater in Pataskala's Sterling Theater. Eikens, meanwhile, created the art for the letter S, highlighting the word street in the Pataskala Street Fair.

Whitmer said she was "really excited" about seeing her art in the park.

She added she picked the historic theater, which stands atop the former Pataskala Town Hall on Main Street, because it is one of her favorite places in the city.  "Last year my class took a field trip (to the theater) and saw a puppet show," she said. "It's an awesome place."

Eikens similarly picked one of his favorite events, the annual Street Fair, which takes over Main Street every August.  "It's really fun, and there are lots of rides and you get prizes," said Eikens, when asked what he enjoys most about the event.