Reading station

A reading station is located along Stream Bottom Trail at Swiss Valley Nature Center just outside of Dubuque. The stations are part of a “story walk” that allows visitors to read picture book stories while outside.

A new outdoor activity coming to Dubuque and Dyersville seeks to help families to get outside while also engaging children with literacy.

Both Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque and James Kennedy Public Library in Dyersville are working with Iowa Prison Industries to install displays with over-sized pages from picture books along trails in each city. The pages will be spaced several feet apart to create a “story walk” which families can read while outside exercising.

“It’s a great family activity,” said Susan Henricks, director of Carnegie-Stout Public Library. “I wish we would have had it last year because of social distancing. It’s also important for us because one of our major priorities is literacy. Any time we can expose children to reading is incredible.”

Dubuque’s story walk will be set up along Bee Branch Creek Greenway and hopefully will be completed in May, Henricks said.

The project will cost about $10,000, and is being funded in part by the Dubuque Racing Association and the library foundation, she said.

“The library foundation is thrilled with this idea,” she said. “We have already talked about having a second one in the future.”

Henricks said the book being displayed will be changed out frequently and replaced with a new story.

The Dyersville story walk will be installed along the walking trail at Westside Park and will hopefully be ready in March or April depending on weather, said Shirley Vonderhaar, director of James Kennedy Public Library.

“We’ve been talking about it for a couple of years,” she said. “Especially with the COVID pandemic, it seems like the perfect time to have a literary event that can be socially distant.”

She said Dyersville’s story walk is being funded in part by Dubuque Racing Association, along with a match made by the friends of the library group and money from a local donor that officials have saved.

The projects join other story walk opportunities already available locally. One was installed last summer along Stream Bottom Trail at Swiss Valley Nature Preserve near Dubuque, said Michael Wright, director of the Dubuque County Library District.

“The library partnered with the (Dubuque) County Conservation Board on the project and would like to do another one on the Heritage Trail,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on the trail. It’s pretty popular.”

The story walk along a trail the Hurstville Interpretive Center in Maquoketa was a huge hit last summer in particular, said Jessica Wagner, environmental education coordinator at the center.

“This past year with more people getting outdoors, we saw a lot of people out there,” she said. “Our goal is to just get more people outside, and this is just another offering. Reading is an important part of growing up.”

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