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Joyce Endee

Local Girl Scout unveils new Story Walk® at Southwick School

Girl Scout Cadette Emma Davidson posed with her first book for a Story Walk® at Southwick School and one of two woodcarvings of hawks created by local carver Steve Wing of Gilford, which are located at the start and finish of the trail. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
September 08, 2021
NORTHFIELD – After a year of development, organization and work, on Aug. 28, 14-year-old Emma Davidson of Northfield held an unveiling ceremony for her new Story Walk® at Southwick Elementary School, featuring a Vermont author and illustrator's book "A Kettle of Hawks and Other Wildlife Groups."

Girl Scouts offers five levels of scouting — Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes and Seniors. Emma was a Girl Scout Cadette during the process of her Silver Award winning project, the highest honor available for Cadettes.

As a Cadette, Emma had the opportunity to seek a project she cared about, could focus on, learn about and then take action to make a difference. She chose a Story Walk®.

"This is the 10th anniversary of a Story Walk® that was built (by a Boy Scout) on the Winnipesauke River Trail that was ruined so I wanted to recreate another one," she said.

Her initial idea to put a new Story Walk® along that same trail was turned down, due to concerns about vandalism. Union-Sanborn Elementary School next offered to be a site for her trail, but with the probability of those students moving to Southwick School in the near future, Emma changed her focus to the nature trail at Southwick.

"It was an ideal location because they like the story pages to be 50 feet apart, and that worked out really nicely on that trail," she said.

In addition, Southwick School's Nature Trail also has outdoor classrooms and is frequented by students and teachers. The trail, Emma believed was the perfect spot for a Story Walk® and to inspire children to not only read but learn.

"And it really helps out with the Dr. Keck Movement at Southwick," Emma added.

Dr. Eric Keck was a principal at Southwick who sought to promote agricultural and outdoor learning. Under his leadership Southwick School, with the assistance of science teacher Brian Winslow, obtained a working greenhouse, brought in beehives and even taught students to raise trout that they later released in local waters. Keck sadly passed away unexpectedly in the summer of 2020.

For her first story, Emma selected a book she felt would blend well with the setting, while entertaining and educating visitors.

Author Jim Arnasky's beautifully illustrated book enlightens people to the many names given to groups of creatures found in nature that they may not be unaware of and tells how they all come together to form an ecosystem. A kettle of hawks, a gaggle of geese, or a cloud of tadpoles are some of the things visitors learn about along the way. Owls, fish, bees and even ants are included in his book.

Making this Story Walk® possible were many local residents, organizations and businesses.

Emma said as a member of Compass 4-H Club in Belknap County, some of her friends volunteered to acquire community service hours. Hall Memorial Library also lent guidance and their Raven Gael Blaisdell Foundation provided the book for her walk. When it came time to start construction on her project, Home Depot and Tractor Supply Company also pitched in by providing discounts for the materials she needed to keep each page of the story protected.

Perhaps the most stunning contribution to the project though is two wood-carved hawks from Steve Wing of Wings and Things in Gilford.

"I saw a hawk he carved and wanted it for the trail but after he saw the cover of the book, he carved another hawk in flight," said Emma. "I bought that one but I loved them both so he donated the other one to the project."

The two hawks are now positioned at the start and finish of the trail.

On the day of her unveiling ceremony last week, people gathered for a first look at her work. Also on the school fields that afternoon were a gaggle of geese and a swarm of bees. Very appropriate, she thought.

Children who walked the trail that day also received a free book through the Raven Blaisdell Foundation. Thanks to both the library and American Legion Post 49, books for walking the trail will also be available in the coming months.

"If kids take a picture of themselves reading the story then bring them to the library, they'll get a free book," Emma said.

Initially limited to the first 50 children to do so, Post 49 is pitching in to keep that book donation going throughout the coming months.

For Emma her project isn't a one-time deal though. As a freshman at Winnisquam Regional High School this year, she has at least four more years of plans to keep the walk fresh and maintained. In fact, when it comes time to put out a new book in the spring, she said she'll do so but would love some public input, too.

"People can bring suggestions to the library and I'll also probably make up some forms they can fill out with what they'd like to see next out there," said Emma.

Most of all, she wants her Story Walk® to have sustainability.

"I hope someone will want to eventually take it over and keep it going," she said.

Emma dedicated her walk to the memory of Edna Southwick, sister of Northfield farmer Bert Southwick who sold the property for Southwick School to the district in 1994.

The new Story Walk® is open to the public and located on the back (right side) of the Southwick School playing fields. Parking in the school lot, people will see a large sign along the wood line marking the entrance to the trail where 15 reading stations, one page at each, are set out. After winding through the beautiful woodlot and over a babbling brook, the book ends just before the trail emerges back out to the field beside the school's Pollinator Garden.

In November Emma will be recognized for her work when she receives the distinguished Silver Award from the Girl Scout Council at a special ceremony in Bedford.

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