Storybook Trail: promoting literacy while connecting with nature

There is evidence that connecting with nature can boost mental and physical health, and now, the beauty of the outdoors can also improve literacy. That is thanks to a new partnership with the University of Tennessee Extension Service.

About to start our hike in the Smokies, and the first thing we need to is read page one. On the mile-long Cosby nature trail, you can take a break and follow along with We’re Going to the Mountains, a children’s book on these displays.

This storybook trail is a project dedicated to promoting literacy in nature. Parents and kids read the story as they walk through this canopy of trees and streams.

UT Extension in Cocke County teamed with the U.S. Park Service to make this happen.

“I think this program is unique because we are partnered with the National Park Service. We have a focus on physical activity, enjoying nature, the culture of this area here in Cosby, as well as fostering that love of learning at a young age,” UT Extension’s Jessica Gardner explains.

The idea here is to enhance visitor’s experience of the beautiful mountains, get a little exercise, and read something interesting-- true interaction with the trail. A hike in the words!

“We’re very excited to be working with our partners through the UT Extension Service and the Great Smokey Mountains Association and Unify Cocke County,” Kate Corrigan with the U.S. Park Service states. “This is an excellent opportunity for families to get out along a trail, explore and discover what the park has to offer, as well as learning along the way.”

Four books will be featured on the trail, changing every couple of weeks, and another two books to follow when the leaves turn in the fall. And, if you time it right, you just might bump into an author at the trailhead.

The first Saturday of each book’s rotation, the author will be on hand to meet with visitors. Steve Kemp wrote the book featured on this opening Saturday and says that he is honored to have his words appear on the trail.

According to Kemp, “Kids like it, adults like it. Of course, learning to read is so important. There’s so much research that shows that kids who learn to read at an early age go on to do well in school and life thereafter.”

UT Extension has been involved in developing storybook trails in several areas, including Nashville and Tullahoma. Now add the Smokies to that list.