What do you do in the middle of a pandemic that will take a family’s mind off the pandemic, but still keep everyone safe from the pandemic and still have the library serve patrons during a pandemic? And how can we avoid the word pandemic?! This was the thought that was on the minds of many public library programmers this past year. Campbell County Public Library System tried a lot of things, but one beautiful event that came out of this new mindset was our Enchanted Trail.
It all stemmed from an idea incorporating a fairytale theme from a few summers ago and utilizing the trail behind one of our libraries. The wooded trail is right behind one of our libraries at the end of our StoryWalk, has a small bridge, and loops around part of a pond. We truly lucked out on the landscape. Wouldn’t it be great if every library were close to a pond?
At the time, we couldn’t make it happen as the world shut down. However, once we started opening back up and figuring out the new masked normal, we were able to put this original idea into action. The Youth & Outreach Team created our first Enchanted Trail in December 2020. We utilized the winter break for students and hosted a snow inspired theme.
The Enchanted Trail consists of a story that we have written and displayed by hanging pages among the trees, a scavenger hunt consisting of 20 hidden objects, and some small decorations. Since December, each month’s theme has differed, with one minor exception.
Our Gnomes & Fairies theme has proven so popular that we’ve repeated it twice, showcasing their fancy wooden doors and mischievous tales. As such, we have plans to move forward with them, and their wild antics, every season.
For those interested in how we put this all together, let’s talk a little about logistics. We set up our Pop-Up Library tent outside to welcome trail-goers. Families would register for their own time slot ahead of time using an online reservation system. We set time slots for every 15 minutes to start and then realized after a few months, we could pare that down to 10 minutes. In the beginning, group restrictions meant that we could only have fewer than 10 people at a time, but as restrictions lifted, we encouraged folks to bring any group that they chose.
To begin the trail, folks meet us under the tent and receive their own clipboard and crayon. The clipboard contains their Enchanted Trail sheet which highlights a few guidelines about how to traverse the trail—which way to go, warnings to watch out for roots, etc. It also holds a quick introduction to the theme and story for that day as well as highlighting the elementary Standards of Learning (SOLs) that are touched upon. The back contains the checkoff sheet for the day’s scavenger hunt. We’ve found that the scavenger hunt portion is a great way to entertain the grade school kids. And who doesn’t love to find things!?
Once they have the sheet, we guide the families to the beginning of the trail and let them walk at their own pace. They come back to us and drop their clipboard and crayon in a bin that we quarantine after the event. This means that everyone gets their own materials that day.
This was a perfect activity for grandparents that couldn’t interact with their own children and grandchildren. They were able to safely see family members and do something together. The past few months, we started to host field trips prior to the event opening to the public. We figure if we are set up, we want it to be utilized as much as possible. And as the months continued and we did different themes, we were able to merge partnerships with local groups. We had Earth Day kits donated and we were able to pass these out for our Earth Day Enchanted Trail event that focused on pollinators.
We host the event once a month on a Friday, which was the day that local students weren’t in school over the past year. As the event has become more established, the hours for it have lengthened along with the days. We’ve adapted the last two hours of the event to be reserved for “drop-in” families that might have missed the registration. Even with the “drop-in” feature, we’ve found that most families come back each month and want their own timeslot. Though we begin the events at 11:00am for the public, to accommodate other groups we offer “secret” timeslots to local daycares and private schools that are open to field trips. They get to start a half hour earlier. Our last Enchanted Trails event on May 21st went until 7:30pm, and for each one we’ve averaged anywhere from 110 to 150 participants.
Because this takes place outside, we’ve been able to safely chat with our trail-goers, listen to their stories, promote other events, and strengthen our community bond. To bring even more to the trails, we’ve made sure that the library WiFi reaches the start spot so we’re able to check out books to folks while outside. This provides a great alternative for those who aren’t quite comfortable yet coming inside the building. We’ve even tied Enchanted Trails to our monthly reading challenges through the creation of a “Secret Letter of the Day” which is used throughout the event’s story. This “Secret Letter” contains a code word to use in the online reading challenge system so that Enchanted Trail goers can earn points for completing the trail.
While this event is for the community, we’ve found that it also allows us to demonstrate the immense talents of our library staff, one of whom has taken on the task of creating the stories for the trails and has earned the title, “Creative Writer of Enchanted Trails.” Another staffer is a wonderful artist and has become our “Art Director of Enchanted Trails.” The events couldn’t exist without these two staff powerhouses.
We invite you to stop by Campbell County Public Library and check out the Enchanted Trails for yourself. We update our website with the new information and open registration two weeks prior to each event and anyone who’s interested in learning more or reserving their own time slot can head to www.campbellcountylibraries.org/enchantedtrail.
–The Youth & Community Outreach Department, Campbell County Public Library