Gift for the children

United Way Year of Caring plants first Wonder Walk Trail at Sandy Springs

Checking out the Wonder Walk Trail in Sandy Springs Park are, from left, Michelle Hankes, Bill Pyle, Regina Jennings, Jessica Wallace with Katie and Jeff Garrett. On the cover is Katie Wallace.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Checking out the Wonder Walk Trail in Sandy Springs Park are, from left, Michelle Hankes, Bill Pyle, Regina Jennings, Jessica Wallace with Katie and Jeff Garrett. On the cover is Katie Wallace.

The Wonder Walk Trail is ready to be enjoyed by children coming to play at Sandy Springs Park.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

The Wonder Walk Trail is ready to be enjoyed by children coming to play at Sandy Springs Park.

Putting in some sweat equity spreading new mulch at the Sandy Springs playground are, from left, Michelle Hankes, Bill Pyle and Jeff Garrett.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Putting in some sweat equity spreading new mulch at the Sandy Springs playground are, from left, Michelle Hankes, Bill Pyle and Jeff Garrett.

Jeff Garrett, left, and Michelle Hankes share a laugh while spreading some mulch on the playground at Sandy Springs Park.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Jeff Garrett, left, and Michelle Hankes share a laugh while spreading some mulch on the playground at Sandy Springs Park.

Parents now have a new way to have fun with their young children while playing at Sandy Springs Park. The Wonder Walk Trail is a path of interactive activities that promote a variety of skills in young children.

The United Way Year of Caring committee organized the trail. It’s located on the old shuffleboard court near the picnic area at Sandy Springs Park. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 12 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19.

“The Wonder Walk is an engaging path of interactive activities that helps parents promote language and pre-literacy skills, motor skills, physical activity and school readiness in their young children,” said Jessica Wallace. Wallace is Associate of Community Impact for United Way of Blount County. “The signs were designed by a group of early childhood professionals. Each one focuses on a key developmental area or important skill such as literacy, physical activity, cause and effect, conservation, observation and comparison.”

Wallace said the Wonder Walk can be installed almost any place where young children and parents go together. Locations of the Wonder Walk across Tennessee include parks, greenbelts, malls, libraries and museums. “Here in Blount County, we have chosen Sandy Springs Park as our first location for the Wonder Walk,” she said.

The Wonder Walk consists of 19 signs but any combination or number of signs can be selected for use. The signs are two-feet long by one-foot wide and are made of laminated aluminum. The United Way organizations in Tennessee have been working with a sign shop in Williamson County that is offering speedy processing and low prices. The signs are mounted on 6-foot long galvanized, metal posts. Two feet of each post will be in the ground, so each sign will be approximately four feet tall, Wallace said.

Several community partners including Maryville, Alcoa and Blount County Parks & Rec, City of Maryville and United Way of Blount County, along with many volunteers, are working together on the project.

The first Wonder Walk is being funded through a Project Diabetes grant received in August of 2009. East Tennessee Fence Company agreed to drive the metal posts into the ground free of charge.

“We have hopes of installing Wonder Walk trails all around Blount County. The planning and installation of the Wonder Walk is a great project for a group to take on. Each Wonder Walk will have an important impact on young children in our area for years to come,” Wallace said.

Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning teacher and Success by Six committee member Martha Bryant said the Wonder Walk Trail gives parents some different ideas of things they can do while they are in the park with their children.

“There are some creative things the kids can do to use their imagination. There are learning activities -- like finding different shapes and colors -- and then there are also physical activities to develop different motor skills for kids,” said Bryant.

Year of Caring Committee chair Regina Jennings credited Wallace with researching the Wonder Walk Trail. The Year of Caring initiative started off as a Day of Caring in which volunteers spread out through the community one day each year, usually the first day of the annual United Way campaign. This past year it was changed to the Year of Caring to give companies and individuals more opportunity to serve.

Jennings said the first event was a food drive to support several local Blount County food pantries, second one was the Wonder Walk Trail and the third one is going to be a reading program in January.

“We are picking projects such as the Wonder Walk Trail to be able to advance learning of young children in developing skills as they are walking along the Greenbelt with their parents,” said Jennings.

The subcommittee that coordinated the project included Bill Pyle with BB&T and Jeff Garrett of Volunteer Turf. “They talked to Parks and Rec and got it approved. Jessica wrote a grant to get money to fund items needed such as signage and poles,” said Jennings. “East Tennessee Fence donated their time to put the poles in for us.”

Jennings said Wallace painted the little signs to explain the different things children can see and do along the path. “We also spread mulch to spruce up the playground. That playground is used by a lot of people, and there are a lot of kids there,” she said.

Wallace said she learned about the Wonder Walk Trail from the Born Learning Trail public awareness campaign sponsored by the United Way of America.

“United Way of Tennessee put together their own Wonder Walk Trail similar to a Born Learning Trail, and we decided to make it part of our Year of Caring project,” said Wallace. “I have two great chairs with the Wonder Walk Trail - Jeff Garrett with Volunteer Turf and Bill Pyle with BB&T.”

Wallace said she is excited about the new Wonder Walk Trail. “We think young children are pretty important and getting them ready to be successful is important. This is a way to do that. We’d love to do more trails in the future.”

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