In April, Pataskala residents will learn about the city’s past from story panels being installed later this month on a fence in Municipal Park.
“It’s (the story’s) centered around the park itself,” said Pataskala artist Laurie VanBalen, who created the story and art for the installation.
“If you take a piece of art into an already designated place and install it, a lot of times the focus is on the environment,” VanBalen said.
“For this project, I did not want 12 billboards,” she said.
“I wanted whatever we created to fit into the environment of what the park is, relate to it and integrate the installation into it.”
The result is the story of a girl who wonders what other types of feet – whether the feet belong to dinosaurs or Native Americans – may have walked through the park before her.
“It’s told through the eyes of a child who wondered who played there before,” VanBalen said.
She said one board shows the girl on a swing in color and another shows little boys wearing knickers and playing on a tire swing in a black and white tone, with a brownish tint that signifies age.
“I did not want it to be documented or something I had to be held accountable for,” VanBalen said.
“We don’t really know the historical context,” she said.
“Some things have been confirmed, but we really don’t know what existed beyond several hundred years ago.”
VanBalen researched historical records and walked the trail, thinking about the creek and other natural aspects of the trail which she could incorporate into her work.
“The story kind of is a tapestry, with the old and new interspersed,” she said.
VanBalen challenged herself to make it something that would appeal to all ages, saying, “I wanted it to appeal to family and to the intelligence of kids, and to instigate some critical thought about a place you may take for granted.”
She also wrote the story so it could be understood from starting at either end of the trail.
“I made it a personal challenge, writing it so it could be read backwards and still make sense from the last page,” she said.
“You can read it going in the other direction so the work makes sense from either side of the path.”
Pataskala Mayor Steve Butcher and his wife Nancy initiated the idea after seeing a similar project while on vacation.
Butcher said they approached the Pataskala Public Library to see if the library could provide an educational aspect to the trail, which is used by many for exercise.
“We met with the library to see if we could teach people to read and about the local history while they are out exercising,” Butcher said. “We could create a family event.”
Pataskala Library Director Jeff Rothweiler said the library has money that was donated by library board members and is designated for memorial projects.
Rothweiler said the story trail cost $3,500 to $4,000 for VanBalen to create the story and illustrate it, and for Branham Signs of Reynoldsburg to transfer the words and images to panels.
It will be installed in the park before Easter and will be dedicated on April 20.
“The idea is, over time, to get new stories up every year,” Rothweiler said.
He said he asked Pataskala Elementary School teachers if they might be able to use the story trail as a project for their students.
“If a new story could do up every year, it would keep it fresh and exciting,” Rothweiler said.
He said he hopes to work with other local organizations to fund future projects.
“We’re very excited about this,” Rothweiler said.
“We hope it promotes literacy, health and wellness. It’s an opportunity for us to reach out to the public, beyond our walls.”
VanBalen said the West Licking Historical Society is interested in publishing the story and selling the books. She said if that happens, she will agree that all proceeds benefit the historical society.