Story Walk installed at United Oaks Elementary

Sensory garden coming this spring

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published September 7, 2022

 One of the Story Walk signposts is installed at United Oaks Elementary School in Hazel Park. Each signpost features a page from a children’s book, along with interactive prompts.

One of the Story Walk signposts is installed at United Oaks Elementary School in Hazel Park. Each signpost features a page from a children’s book, along with interactive prompts.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


HAZEL PARK — A series of signposts featuring pages from a children’s book are now on display at United Oaks Elementary School — a way to enjoy a story while going for a stroll. And in the spring, a grant-funded sensory garden will be added, as well.

The Story Walk project began in August 2021 when Amy Beem, a librarian at the Hazel Park District Library, sent emails to local Scout groups in Hazel Park and Madison Heights, informing them that the library is happy to work with them on any community service projects they may have in mind for a Gold Award or Eagle Scout status.

From this, the concept for the Story Walk took form: a series of signposts, each with a framed illustrated page from a children’s book, telling a complete story when followed in order. The idea is to bring reading to outdoor spaces where children play, promoting early literacy and a sense of wonder.

The inaugural book is “Eat Pete,” by Michael Rex, and the pages on the signposts also feature interactive prompts for those following along. Viewers may be asked to hop like a frog from one station to the next, or to close their eyes while sniffing the air for rascally monsters hiding nearby.

Boy Scouts of America Troop 1589 in Madison Heights, led by scoutmasters Dawn Haggart and Chad Langdon, researched the project and assembled half the boards. The Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts were all involved. One scout, Nick Calhoun, raised funds for materials by collecting cans and bottles, covering the other half of the boards and earning his Eagle Scout status. Calhoun also previously constructed a puppet rack for the Hazel Park District Library.

“They did such a fabulous job,” Beem said of the scouts.

But before it could be installed, a suitable location needed to be found. The library didn’t have room to accommodate it, but when it came to the attention of Amy Kruppe, the superintendent of the Hazel Park Public Schools, she recommended United Oaks Elementary, at 1001 E. Harry Ave., where the trail will enhance the sensory garden planned for installation next to it this spring.

A grant from United Way is funding both the sensory garden and the path between signposts in the Story Trail. The sensory garden itself will be designed with a variety of elements meant to stimulate the five basic senses: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Kruppe said in an email that it’s inspired by Innovation Hills Park, in Rochester, and may include a butterfly garden, as well. She also envisions students from the schools helping out. Rounding out the site will be two book trading posts — similar to the “Little Free Library” stands where people can donate or take books — and a bench under a tree at the end of the path, where they can sit down to read.

“We got a quarter of a million dollars a year from the United Way to develop this. We feel this makes a beautiful centerpiece for the community to be at the school more,” Kruppe said.

“Our theme for this school year is ‘literacy for all,’ so what better way to help kick things off than with this wonderful Story Walk.”

The signposts for the Story Walk were installed Aug. 7. The scouts worked with school staff to install the posts, while Beem took their boards and installed them with help from the schools.

The signposts are such that the pages of other stories could be swapped in over time, as well. According to Beem, the plan is to change the story every two to three months. The current story spans 15 posts, but this number could change with future stories.

Haggart said that the boards began attracting attention from the moment they were installed.

“While we were assisting in the installation, the children who will benefit from (the Story Walk) were out on the playground, and curiously watching to see what was happening,” Haggart recalled. “The Scouts became excited seeing the children who would be using them, and were glad they were able to be involved in something like this. For some, this was their first experience in this type of service or philanthropy. It was a great example of community service.”

Beem said both projects were made possible because of everyone involved, from the library and schools to the Scouts and United Way.

“This sensory garden and Story Walk will be a wonderful sensory experience for families and adults who want to experience beauty and fun,” Beem said. “Literacy is a huge goal for all of us -- to have a fun experience for children and adults to get them excited about reading. I am hoping the Story Walk and sensory garden will give the city something to enjoy for years. It truly is a wonderful collaboration.”