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Storybook trail, 2023

UD River Stewards collaborate with community leaders on local storybook trail project

By Lucy Waskiewicz ’24

The 2024 University of Dayton River Stewards are breathing new life into the 2020 River Stewards' book by adapting it into a storybook trail along the Great Miami River in Dayton.

Ohio storybook trails are equipped with signs or plaques depicting the pages of nature-themed children’s books. The Great Miami River trail will run from Stewart Street to Carillon Boulevard and display pages from Into the River, published by the 2020 River Stewards cohort. 

It will be dedicated to Anne Crecelius, a UD graduate and professor who died in February 2023. Crecelius helped build the River Stewards program during her time as a student worker at the Fitz Center.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the trail is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20.

Into the River takes readers through a colorful exploration of the Great Miami River, incorporating information about local wildlife species, watershed characteristics and the importance of environmental protection, among other topics.

The book's transformation into a storybook trail began as a joint effort between Tessa O’Halloran, a 2024 River Steward, and the Miami Conservancy District, an organization promoting flood protection, water stewardship and recreation in the Great Miami River watershed.

O’Halloran, a senior civil engineering major from Homer Glen, Ill., interned with the district during summer 2022 through the Fitz Center’s Ethics and Leadership Internship program. There, she helped write a successful proposal for a storybook trail grant funded by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“MCD believes that if our community members feel connected to the river corridor, and appreciate the many ways that water makes our region more resilient and more desirable, they are more likely to take steps to keep it clean and plentiful,” said Sarah Hippensteel Hall, the district’s director of communications, outreach and stewardship. “The UD students have taken a leadership role to help protect and promote our water and waterways, and MCD wants to support and partner with them to make a difference in our region.”

Students assisted in the design and fabrication of 12 plaques and MCD staff installed signage along the river. A graduate of the 2023 cohort, Emma Allington, now works at the MCD and helped with the engineering designs to place the plaques in the ground.

Storybook Trail, 10-17-23

Elisabeth Arnold, a senior geology major with a sustainability minor from Pataskala, Ohio, said she hopes the trail will be a place for local families and UD students to connect with the river and the greater Dayton community.

“The goal is to showcase how valuable of a resource the Great Miami River is for Dayton and make the river a focal point of curiosity and recreation,” said Arnold, a member of the 2024 River Stewards cohort.

The storybook trail is the latest River Stewards project impacting the community. In February 2023, the UD Rivers Institute’s RiverMobile became a permanent exhibit at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery.

The RiverMobile, a mobile learning studio that educated more than 3,500 children across Dayton on the history, benefits and conservation of the Great Miami River watershed, was staffed by River Stewards during its eight years of operation. Now, the students volunteer at the stationary exhibit at the Boonshoft Museum.

This year, the 2024 cohort’s senior capstone project will focus on connecting the Into the River storybook trail to the Boonshoft exhibit.

River Stewards is a three-year interdisciplinary program operated by the Rivers Institute of the Fitz Center for Leadership and Community. It focuses on leadership development and civic engagement through weekly mini-courses, community service and a senior capstone project. There are 45 students across 25 majors in the program.

Rivers Institute Director Zach Piso said the program gives students a unique understanding of vocation and community.

“The wonderful thing about the River Stewards program is that it facilitates opportunities for civic engagement, for interdisciplinary collaboration and for applied research,” Piso said. “But what students actually take away from these experiences is a sense of how their work matters and how they can be leaders in their communities.”

Katie Horgan, a senior psychology major with English and sustainability minors from Akron, Ohio, said her experience as a River Steward extends beyond environmental education and has ignited her passion for community engagement.

“I chose to join River Stewards because I have a passion for sustainability, but I learned that the program is about so much more than that,” Horgan said. “It’s helped me develop my leadership skills and gain confidence in talking to members of my community. I now have a passion for service which will extend into my career.”

To learn more, visit the River Stewards website.

Top of page: Members of the 2024 River Stewards. Middle: 2023 River Steward grad Emma Allington.

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