The community gathered in Central Park June 5 for a day of fun activities to celebrate the opening of a new community effort as the ribbon was cut on the Jones County StoryWalk.

The walk, which starts just past the camping spots, has signposts erected along the trail taking people through the story of “Over and Under the Pond,” with interactive nature activities at each stop for walkers to complete. Trail organizers said the walk isn’t just for kids either and can be enjoyed by anyone. The goal is for the book associated with the trail to be swapped out quarterly so there’s always a new adventure for people to go on and to possibly expand the StoryWalk to more communities.

The walk is the latest in the Jones County Grade Level Reading campaign, which has been a priority for several years for the county and the Jones County Community Foundation (JCCF).

“We went through a process of trying to educate ourselves on the needs in the community and tried to focus on at least one area where we thought we could … impact a broad section of the county,” JCCF Board of Directors President Doug Edel said. “After looking at issues with health and economic development, we settled on this grade-level reading project. And so, we’ve been trying to focus a certain level of our funding on grants that impact that.”

JCCF Coordinator Sherri Hunt credited former Strawberry Hill Elementary Principal Val Daily with opening their eyes to the importance of making sure kids are reading at the appropriate level by the third grade, something one in three kids are not doing.

“We know if a child is not reading at a third-grade level by the third grade, they’re going to continue to have more problems later in life,” Hunt said. “Third grade is kind of that threshold of when they go from learning to read to reading to learn. That’s why the community foundation felt really strongly about this initiative.”

When the group approached Jones County Conservation to see if they had any place in the park that might be suitable for such an idea, the department and their staff jumped at the opportunity.

“We’re just really excited to have this project here at Central Park…What better place to bring kids and families out here?” Jones County Naturalist Michele Olson said. “This is a wonderful way to get [families] out here and explore a little bit more.”

Jones County Every Child Reads Coordinator Heather Weers thanked the partners that made the project happen, including the JCCF, Jones County Conservation and Iowa State University Extension Office. Hunt said ensuring kids have the best opportunity to succeed was a responsibility that the entire Jones County community shared.

“Kids’ success is not just the responsibility of our schools, it’s all of our responsibilities,” Hunt said.

Following the ribbon-cutting, the event included activity stations, crafts, games, celebrity book readers, live music and a food stand. A scavenger hunt could be completed for a ticket, earning families a copy of the book beginning the trail. Jones County Pork Producers provided 200 free hot dogs and pork burgers with drinks provided by Kirkwood Jones Regional Center and sides by the Jones County Community Foundation.

The event was also co-sponsored by the Jones County Safe and Healthy Youth Coalition and the Cascade Public Library.