First Lady DeWine visits Great Seal to unveil new Storybook Trail

CHILLICOTHE — Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine visited Great Seal State Park on Friday to unveil a new trail that brings books to life for children and families.

The site is part of the Storybook Trails program launched in 2019 by the ODNR in partnership with the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to promote the importance of literacy, healthy living and connecting with nature. DeWine was instrumental in starting the state’s Imagination Library which gives children one free book per month from birth to age five.

“Ohio’s Storytelling Trails bring families together for lasting memories of fun and active outdoor learning,” First Lady DeWine said. “We’re excited to add more trails to state parks so even more Ohioans can experience the joy of reading.”

The new half-mile loop features panels depicting a Cherokee story told by Joseph Bruchac titled “The First Strawberries.” The book was selected in part because of Great Seal State Park’s rich Native American history.

The first Storybook Trail was established at Alum Creek State Park in Delaware, Ohio and since then the ODNR has worked to expand the program to other counties. In 2020, trails opened at Dillon State Park, John Bryan State Park, Maumee Bay State Park, and Wingfoot Lake State Park. This year, the ODNR plans to open six more sites.

Director Mary Mertz said the trails are a great way for families to spend time together outdoors while children engage in stories and learn about the world around them. Eventually, DeWine hopes the trails will appear at rest areas throughout the state.

Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine reads aloud from a sign on the new Storybook Trail that was unveiled Friday, May 7, 2021.

“Everyone loves a good story, and science supports the physical and mental health benefits of getting out,” Mertz said. “Storybook Trails combines the best of both by promoting children’s literacy and an active, healthy lifestyle – all in the beautiful setting of Ohio’s great outdoors.”

DeWine’s interest in children’s literacy began when she saw the impact the Dolly Parton Library had on her grandchildren. She remembers how excited they were when books arrived in the mail and immediately wanted to read them.

In July 2019, the Ohio Legislature voted to provide $5 million for the next two years to revive the program. The ultimate goal was to expand service to all 88 counties. It is the mission of the First Lady to ensure that all children have access to the program and in November she achieved her goal. To date, 286,184 children are enrolled in the program.

The very first book students in the program receive is “The Little Engine That Could” and the last book is “Look Out Kindergarten”. By the age of five, children will have received 60 free books. Children enrolled in the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library and born in 2017 will receive the book featured at Great Seal State Park in July.

To register with the Ohio Imagination Library, please visit https://ohioimaginationlibrary.org/. A complete list of ODNR storytelling trails, as well as similar trails located in parks and library districts across the state, can be viewed at ohiodnr.gov.

Do you have a tip or a comment? Contact Toria at tbarnhart@gannett.com or 740-349-1106. Follow her on Twitter @ToriaBarnhart.

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