KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – For about 10 years, Park Ranger Steve Earl has worked with local libraries to bring kids and books out to the park where he creates a fun environment where children can learn …
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – For about 10 years, Park Ranger Steve Earl has worked with local libraries to bring kids and books out to the park where he creates a fun environment where children can learn about the outdoors and respect for public land.
The Sept. 30 event “Read With the Trees” was created as part of national literacy month and allows Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park to partner with other community organizations, which in this case was the Melrose Public Library.
“This is a way to promote libraries and reading, while having an outdoor experience as well,” Earl said. “Until a person has a personal experience with nature, they don’t understand. When they have, that’s when they’re going to be good stewards of it.”
The event started with an introduction and a brief storytime including readings from library volunteers, Earl, and children’s author Donna Henderson. This year marked the third in a row that Henderson participated in Read with the Trees. Earl said he selected Henderson because she is a local writer.
“She’s a local author and we wanted to promote local talent,” Earl said.
Henderson read a manuscript from her newest book, called “One.” The manuscript was accompanied by some rough illustrations that will be finalized and included in the book when it is finally sent to press.
The book, which is her second, focuses on the idea that each and every child should feel loved. For Henderson, this is the most important thing children can be taught.
“I hear of so many people, that, as adults, see problems that stem from not knowing deep inside that they are loved,” Henderson said. “If you know as a little kid that you are loved, and that you are worthy, it will hopefully take the sting out of adulthood.”
Henderson said she has been working on the book for about a year now, and through a partnership with an organization called Flower Petals, will be able to give some of the books away for free once they are published.
After Henderson read “One,” Earl plopped down onto the stool at the front of the room, with a simulated LED campfire and three-person tent sitting in the background. He then broke out into an array of voices and characters as he made his way through the swamp-based classic and Read with the Trees crowd favorite, “The Wide-Mouthed Frog” by Keith Faulkner.
After storytime, two dozen kids swarmed Ranger Earl as they walked outside to start a scavenger hunt for painted rocks before settling in for marshmallow bear treats and apple juice.
Volunteers noted that this year’s event saw a slightly smaller turnout, about 25, when they typically have over 40 kids, but potential rain and other factors may have decreased interest. The event will continue next year with even more activities and appearances by special guests, including local authors and maybe Smokey the Bear himself.
At the end of the day, Earl knows that he and his fellow rangers can only carry the torch at Gold Head for so long. He continues to promote nature to local kids who might someday come up through the parks and devote their lives to protecting the land just as he has chosen to do.
“They’re the ones that will inherit our Earth, and our parks,” Earl said. “I think that it’s really important to instill a connection with nature [in children] so our parks endure for years to come.”