PILOT MOUNTAIN — The Jomeokee Trail at Pilot Mountain State Park was well-populated with families, similar to other Saturdays during the spring hiking season. There was one noticeable difference, though: no kids were asking, “Are we there yet?”
That’s likely because not just any walk on the loop trail around the Big Pinnacle was involved Saturday, but one that told a story — literally.
All along the rocky pathway were richly illustrated pages of the children’s story “The Snatchabook.” It concerns efforts by a rabbit named Eliza Brown to catch the thief responsible for a mysterious disappearance of books, who turns out to be a small creature called a snatchabook.
In addition to the eye-catching pages from the book, something else dotted the forested landscape along the Jomeokee Trail: informational displays cleverly placed near those pages to further snag the notice of passersby.
These identified and described plant life that could be spotted at each site, such as mountain laurel and Catawba rhododendron, or supplied interesting details about how Pilot Knob came about (by heat and pressure metamorphosing sediment into a quartzite formation).
The various visual elements did not occur by accident; Saturday’s spring story walk at the state park represented a well-designed effort by media center coordinators at Surry County’s elementary schools to blend a love of reading with nature.
“Basically, we wanted to have a way to take our library/media center programs outside the media center,” explained Jenna Bowman, who is the coordinator at Westfield Elementary. She said Saturday’s story walk, conducted during a two-hour period with the help of park rangers, came on the heels of another held last fall which proved popular.
The goal was to promote physical fitness, an appreciation of nature and families enjoying a fun activity together which included an entertaining book. QR codes were part of the walk as well, which could be scanned by smartphones to provide additional information along the way.
“We’re trying to promote 21st-century skills,” Bowman said of the latter.
And judging by remarks from participants, the overall goal of a providing a fun outing for families was realized.
“I think it’s a neat thing to keep the little kids interested in the hiking trail,” Daniel Austin of the Archdale community in Randolph County remarked while completing the nearly one-mile distance of the story walk with his wife Amanda and daughter, Alexi, 3.
Austin said the family was appreciating the extra dimensions of the story and informational stations during the hiking experience. “So you learn something interesting.”
Beth Chen and her family also took the walk. The Winston-Salem residents visited Pilot Mountain State Park unaware that the special event was taking place. “We just stumbled onto it,” Chen said of the story walk providing a pleasant surprise that her son Niko, 4, seemed to especially enjoy.
A command center was set up at the trail head where free books, prizes and snacks were offered to participants. Nearby, a “skulls and skins” exhibit highlighting the wildlife at Pilot Mountain was manned by park personnel.
About one-fourth of those who attended Saturday were like the Chens and Austins — from out of town — while the other three-fourths were in-county residents who knew about the event, said county schools spokeswoman Sonia Dickerson.
That local contingent included Travis Reeves, the superintendent of Surry schools, who brought his wife and their two young children to the story walk.
“I am a father first and a superintendent second,” Reeves said while praising the opportunity for his children to learn about nature and be exposed to an entertaining book at the same time. “This is really families unplugged, so to speak.”
Reeves added that Saturday’s walk was a great example of classroom instruction being brought to life.
“As educators, our job is to connect the dots,” the county superintendent said of a constant need to make subjects such as science and literature “relevant” to students, which the event provided.
“This just puts it all into perspective.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.