Story Book Trail at Lake Tomahawk starting to come together

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
The proposed Story Book Trail would have stations following the trail at Lake Tomahawk for children to read a picture book as they walk around the lake.

What better place to read a picture book than by a lake? 

That's what Steve and Sally Cochran and Melisa Pressley thought when they introduced the idea of a Story Book Trail at Lake Tomahawk.

The Cochrans work with the Black Mountain Greenways and Trails Commission. At a community input meeting, Pressley, the Black Mountain Library branch manager, presented the idea for a story trail for children. 

"As we got involved in researching, we were really pleased to see that there was a good model of a program that worked and a template to follow," Steve Cochran said. 

The model, courtesy of the Governor's Early Literacy Foundation in Tennessee, outlines steps for groups who may want to undertake such a project. The model consists of a 15 page step-by-step guide from fundraising to building.

Joined by Josh Henderson, the director of the town's Recreation & Parks Department, Steve Cochran presented the idea to the Black Mountain Town Council on May 9. Council members and Mayor Larry Harris were receptive to the idea, particularly council member Doug Hay, who said his young daughter was very excited for the project. 

"I think it's a wonderful endeavor," council member Pam King said at the meeting. "It pulls together two of my very favorite topics, which are the greenways and the library."

The trail has been approved by Rec & Parks as well as Town Council.

Sally Cochran said the planners hope to keep the project locally-based, engaging local business owners and volunteers to carry out the work.

"We're trying to keep it as local as possible but still open to other entities that might be able to provide the same kind of materials," she said.

How the trail works

Presley said the idea is that, following the trail at Lake Tomahawk, readers will be able to complete a full book by reading in sections on a two page spread. 

"A picture book is roughly about 30-38 pages," Presley said. "The way picture books are written, there's usually an image, an illustration on one side and text on the other."

Steve Cochran said each station should be approximately 160 feet apart.

At least for the first year, Presley hopes to feature local children's authors, encouraging potential applicants to reach out to her at the library. 

The target audience for the stories will be kindergarten through fifth grade. 

With the help of local business Precision Graphics, each station will have pages printed on a composite metal material, lasting three to five years. The planners aim to print four books, rotating with the seasons throughout the first year. 

"Independent businesses are very capable of providing the materials," Steve Cochran said. "Local businesses here were very enthused, and we'd like to keep it a very town-specific project."

In addition to the books, Presley suggested including activities for children and families. For instance, including a book in the fall about flora and fauna found around the lake could encourage readers to identify different leaves.

Activities to go along with the books would encourage readers to identify local flora and fauna around the lake.

Funding the project

Steve Cochran said the cost for the project should be relatively low. Though the planners haven't put out a total cost yet, they're optimistic about completing the project using volunteers and donations. 

The Tennessee model provides a sample storybook trail budget with a total cost estimate of $4,500. This includes materials, advertising and opening expenses.

"It's a comparatively small amount," Cochran said. "Different organizations have their own budgets so we haven't even put out a call at all. We're very confident that once we say we're accepting donations for it, it could be an individual or organization adopts its own station."

Next steps to complete the trail

As Presley garners backing for the project with library supporters, the Cochrans prepare to present the plan to the town Beautification Committee next month. 

"The main thing that we will be looking for is hopefully volunteer labor to help construct the things and meet business standards and for ongoing maintenance," Steve Cochran said. 

An ongoing project for the Greenways and Trails Commission consists of an Adopt a Trail program, encouraging groups, businesses or organizations to oversee care and maintenance of local trails, according to Cochran. He said this sort of thing could be helpful in maintaining the Story Book Trail once completed. 

Each station would include a two page spread as readers follow the path around the lake.

The Cochrans said having the Arbor House Bed and Breakfast on board with the project will be essential moving forward. It is the only private property adjoining the lake.

"They're very enthused but understandably they want to make sure everybody's included and engaged," Steve Cochran said. "We don't see this at all as imposing something on the lake as much as saying 'How could this enhance?'"

Presley said she's seen similar projects before and how effective it can be for building community and offering quality family time to locals. 

Taking on projects at the Greenways and Trails Committee remains part of the job, according to Cochran. He and Sally liked the Story Book Trail idea and decided to head the initiative.

"While I did introduce that idea, I just have to give kudos to Steve and Sally because they're the ones who really took off with the idea and brought it to fruition," Presley said. "It's truly going to be a collaboration between a lot of different nonprofits."

Local children's authors who want to add a book to the trail should contact Melisa Pressley at melisa.pressley@buncombecounty.org.

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.