Benjamin Banneker, a free and self-educated African-American born in 1731, spent his life farming, studying mathematics and publishing six almanacs.
Today, some 287 years later, his legacy of combining literacy and academic inquiry with a love of the outdoors is continued at the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, off Oella Ave.
The Catonsville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library partnered with the park to debut last Saturday, April 21, a new “story trail,” the second in the county. The first, in Oregon Ridge Park, debuted last fall.
The trail, a series of 17 posts with laminated pages from a picture book, winds from near the park’s existing play area into a wooded area and finally loops into an orchard growing peaches, pears and local plants — ending beneath an apple tree. Each post is only a few yards apart, and the experience is aimed to engage children in literacy.
“It meets the mission of the park,” Winny Tan, senior naturalist at Benjamin Banneker Park, said. She said it matched with Banneker’s philosophy of being a lifelong learner and being a “voracious” reader.
“This is just one more resource we can give the community,” Tan said.
Money for the project, which was budgeted at $1,500, came from the Foundation for Baltimore County Public Library and the Benjamin Banneker Foundation — with $1,000 coming from the library foundation and $500 from the park foundation.
Volunteers and parks staff assembled the short trail in about two weeks, fitting woodworking and other labor into volunteer and part-time work schedules. A handful of books have already been laminated and are ready to go at the park, to be rotated seasonally from the posts.
“We have the posts installed and the aluminum signs — those were the big investment that we needed the grants [for],” Megan Crews, a librarian at the Catonsville Branch, said. “Now all we have is the [occasional] cost of laminating of the books.”
Already, the trail is garnering some attention. The day the trail opened saw a 4-year-old boy running from post to post, Tan said, who would read the story only when “his grandmother pulled him back.”
Tan said she remembered two other little girls who walked along the 17 posts and read the story themselves. The day a reporter visited the park, Tan said, she saw a young man walking his dog — but pausing to read at each of the posts.
The first book on display at the historical park is “Explorers of the Wild,” a 2016 book by Cale Atkinson. The book tells the story of Boy and Bear, two explorers. They are initially hesitant about exploring when they first meet in the woods, but eventually learn “no mountain is too big to conquer if you have a friend to climb it by your side.”
Crews said the process for choosing which books to include on the trail was a collaborative process between the park and staff at the Catonsville Branch.
“We wanted whatever books we chose to have some ties to the park itself. We were interested in having things that had to do with nature,” Crews said. “We wanted them to be reflected of everything that’s being represented [at the park and museum].”
Rotating the books on a seasonal basis, like at Oregon Ridge, keeps the trail from becoming stale.
“Some people do come out often, and they walk the trails a lot, but some people come occasionally,” Tan said. “So it allows people to read it for that time period and then come back the next time.”
According to library spokeswoman Erica Palmisano, there isn’t currently a plan to roll out more story trails across the county. It’s Oregon Ridge and Banneker for now.
The partnership between the park and the library system is indicative of the way libraries are changing in the era of smartphones and audiobooks. It’s not just about the circulation desk, it’s about being a community space, someplace that can host events, or provide resources and activities, Linda Frederick, executive director of Foundation for Baltimore County Library said.
“The 21st-century library is about connectivity,” said Frederick. “Not just coming and getting your books and leaving.”
Story trail hours and location
The story trail at the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum is open when the park is, from sunrise to sunset daily.
The park is located at: 300 Oella Ave., Catonsville MD 21228