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    Friday, December 02, 2022

    Eagle Scout project combines reading and nature

    Jack Boyden's Eagle Scout project involved the installation of a StoryWalk project at the Ruby and Elizabeth Cohen Woodlands in Colchester. (Photos by Toni Leland)

    So many innovative and wonderful projects have been initiated by Boy Scouts working to earn the Merit Badge, and the beautiful StoryWalk® in Colchester is no exception. This charming new feature at the Ruby and Elizabeth Cohen Woodlands gives children and families the chance to be outdoors together while building literacy, thanks to Scout Jack Boyden of Troop 72.

    When Boyden heard about the possibility of a StoryWalk® project in his hometown, he knew it was what he wanted to do to move toward the goal of earning his Eagle Scout rank. The original idea was conceived by Boyden's five beneficiaries: Cragin Memorial Library, Colchester Garden Club, Collaborative for Colchester's Children, Colchester Land Trust, and Community Wildlife Habitat of Colchester.

    Boyden says, "About a month after accepting this project, I met with my beneficiaries, did a PowerPoint presentation of my thoughts and ideas, and from then on, the StoryWalk® became a part of my life."

    The walk is a trail or path with stations along the way. Each station features a two-page spread of a children's book. In the case of the Colchester walk, each page also has an action caption to help engage children in the story they are following. These captions can ask questions, like “Do you see a hole in the ground?” or instruct the child to do something, such as “Can you hop like a bunny?”

    The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier. The project is a registered service mark owned by Ferguson.

    Kate Byroade is director of the Cragin Memorial Library in Colchester and was instrumental in getting the ball rolling for permissions and support from the other four organizations—all of whom were thrilled with the idea. The first iteration of the StoryWalk® was simple and involved a lot of trial and error. Byroade laughs. "And then an Eagle Scout candidate came along, asking to do a project!" she says. "After Jack got involved, things began happening, and we were able to break ground on the stations in late September of last year."

    For Boyden, the project had a lot of personal appeal. "Literacy is very important to me because reading is so much a part of our daily lives," says Boyden. "I see this as an important issue for young children as well as adults. I hope that, as people walk the StoryWalk®, station by station, they will not only be motivated by a desire to read, but also to enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature."

    Boyden attributes much of his success to help from his troop, his mentor Thomas Robbins, and the five organizations that got behind him in the project. Boyden and his team visited other installations and gathered ideas and input. Kate Byroade mentions that often, unless projects are well thought-out, they are not maintained, and fall into disrepair. Permanent sturdy stations cost around $400 each.

    "Jack was determined that this would be a really nice StoryWalk®, so he and his supporters went into fundraising mode," says Byroade. "They did appeal letters, a car wash, and got people and organizations to sponsor stations."

    More than 90 businesses and individuals supported the project.

    Boyden is a soft-spoken young man with a ready smile, and he's obviously proud of what he and his team have accomplished. "This project has impacted my life greatly," he says. "I dedicated the last 18 months to this Eagle Scout project in hopes of contributing something special to my community. People stop us on the street to tell us how much they enjoyed the StoryWalk®—there is no better reward than that."

    In addition to providing a delightful venue to the people of Colchester, Boyden says he gained a lot.

    “By working on this project, I have learned how to fundraise, how to write correspondence asking for donations, create invitations, write thank-you letters, and have become more confident when speaking in front of an audience.”

    To top it all off, Boyden was honored by the Collaborative for Colchester’s Children as their Volunteer of the Year—pretty good stuff for a high school junior. And very good for the community of Colchester, Connecticut. 

    Visit the StoryWalk® at Ruby and Elizabeth Cohen Woodlands, 96 McDonald Road, Colchester, CT, 06415