Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

A series of trails meander through the forests in Highlands to make up the Highlands Plateau Greenway, which was first established in 2005. What sets the Highlands Plateau Greenway apart from other trails are unique environmental features upon which the Greenway’s trail system is superimposed. The trail system is developed around the small mountain town and includes opportunities for recreation, education on regional and natural history, art, and conservation. The Greenway connects established trail systems within Highlands allowing users to visit sites of special interest without the use of motorized vehicles through tracts owned by Greenway Partners: the Town of Highlands, Highlands Biological Station, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, and Bascom Center for the Visual Arts.

The Bascom just completed two enhancement projects that added features to the Greenway to further its mission of providing opportunities for recreation with a focus on the arts. The Bascom partnered with Read2Me, a Franklin-based nonprofit geared toward promoting early literacy, to construct a Story Walk along a quarter mile portion of the Greenway adjacent to the Bascom property.

“In 2016, with the help of teenage work-exchange campers from the Mountain Retreat and Learning Center, we extended lower section of The Bascom’s Nature Trail so that it connects to the rear entrance of the building where the children’s studio is,” said Will Barclift Director of Community Outreach for The Bascom. “The Story Walk has transformed the lower trail into an active learning space. We always take our camps and school groups outside to incorporate nature and sculpture into their learning experiences, but the Story Walk has been a game-changer. Not to mention, the volume of foot traffic by the general public has been significantly higher since the story was installed, and that was only a few weeks ago. It is just heartwarming to see kids and parents, locals and tourists, alike, engaged in the fusion of nature, learning, and play. We are sincerely grateful to the many contributors to this project. It fits right in with The Bascom’s mission to be an educational conduit serving our region and a marriage between visual art and natural beauty. It is a unique gift that will integrate perfectly into our cross-disciplinary science and literacy classes, as well.”

Story Walks combine the pleasure of reading children’s books aloud with all the joys and benefits of walking together outdoors. They include fun, educational activities placed on the pages of a children’s story along a popular route in the community.  Macon County’s first Story Walk is located on the Rotary Park loop along the Little Tennessee Greenway, behind the Shops at Riverwalk plaza off the Highlands Road. A second Story Walk was installed last fall at Parker Meadows Recreation Park. The Story Walk located at the Bascom, which features the book “And Here’s to You” written by David Elliot, will make Read2Me’s third Story Walk and will be unveiled for the community on Wednesday, Aug. 9, at 10 a.m.

“Read2Me is proud to collaborate with our friends in Highlands who understand the importance of literacy to our children,” said Diane Cotton, president of Read2Me. “Our new Story Walk is a great opportunity for families to read a good book together, bring awareness to the gorgeous nature walk on the greenway as well as exposure to the magic of art nearby at the Bascom.  Combining the love of reading and art with the love of our natural surroundings provides parents and children a way to bond, communicate and just plain have fun.  Our hope is the new Story Walk will be well used and much loved.”

Read2Me will host a guided reading of the Story Walk during the unveiling and will be giving out free books to children and providing light refreshments. The community is invited to attend.

In addition to the Story Walks, the Bascom just completed the installation of functional sculpture benches along the Greenway trail.

In the spring of 2017, Bascom Sculpture Fellow Eric Araujo constructed three lumber and steel sculptural and functional additions to the Winkler Sculpture and Nature Trail – part of the Highlands Plateau Greenway. The sculptures remain on permanent display on the trail. As an extension of The Bascom’s Community Outreach Department, Araujo visited classrooms, provided public lectures, and visited Western Carolina University graduate student studios.

“The Bascom and supporters of the Highlands Plateau Greenway are always looking to enhance the portion of the trail that stretches across the Bascom campus,” said Barclift. “We have an outdoor sculpture biennial, a corn crib, a creek-side pavilion, outdoor amphitheaters, and even a nature trail guide that focuses on Cherokee plant traditions. Another recently completed project is a series of two sculptural benches along the trail and one sculpture at the rear trailhead by artist Eric Araujo. As the 2017 Sculpture Fellow, Eric stayed with us for three months and built the sculptures in our studios with materials that were donated by Reeves Hardware and Antique Reclaimed Lumber, out of Nebo, NC. The Story Walks are interspersed with Eric’s sculptures, so you can enjoy the story, take a break on one of the benches, and then resume the story.”

Eric Araujo is a Brooklyn-based teacher and interdisciplinary artist working in sculpture, installation, drawing, painting and digital imaging. Araujo received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Pratt Institute and Master of Fine Arts from San Francisco Art Institute. His work has been shown in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the di Rosa Preserve in Napa Valley, the Canzani Center Gallery at Columbus College of Art and Design, Johannson Projects in Oakland, Calif., as well as various galleries, and nonprofit art spaces.

For more information on The Bascom, call (828)526-4949 or visit www.thebascom.org.

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