Ever wish you had something to listen to while wandering in the woods? Now, there 12 voices hidden among the trees in Kenai, waiting to enthrall passers-by with their poetic musings on nature itself.
A small crowd braved the rain Saturday to celebrate a new program bringing art and nature together — Pathways of Poetry — during a grand opening in the Kenai Municipal Park.
Out of 86 students who submitted poems to the project, 12 were chosen as winners, and their poems are now posted on signs along the trail at the park. Not only that, but audio recordings of the 12 authors reading their pieces aloud are embedded in the signs and can be accessed by scanning a printed code with a smartphone.
The idea surfaced about a year ago, said Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates.
“I was attending the Alaska Parks and Recreation Conference down in Homer and sifting through some literature, and came across this idea of poems in the parks,” he said. “And it is a trend that we’re starting to see at the national level in the state parks throughout the Lower 48.”
From there, “the creative juices started flowing,” Frates said, and the city teamed up with the local schools and the Kenai Community Library to pull the project off.
The signs were funded by the Friends of the Kenai Library. The group’s president, Dee Cassel, handed out certificates to the winners who were present at Saturday’s celebration. Each student who submitted a poem will also get a certificate.
“This was such an exciting event, as there were several judges, and I happened to be one of them, to get to read all those 86 poems,” Cassel said to the small crowd gathered at the park. “And believe me some of them were really good. I wish everybody could have won.”
From there, the assembled students and their families took a trip down the newly adorned trail leading from the park to Kenai’s north beach, stopping to read and listen to the poems along the way.
“It’s really a celebration of the creative arts and incorporating the creative art into our park system,” Frates said. “The end result being just to increase the user’s experience … by incorporating the different senses. The more senses I think you can involve, the more memorable that experience is.”
The kids had guidelines to follow when writing their poems, said Ryanna Thurman of the Kenai Community Library, as well as a theme — nature.
Kassandra Renfrow, a student at Kenai Central High School, said she was inspired by the ocean when writing her winning poem.
“I’ve always found that the ocean was like a mysterious thing,” she said. “You never know what could happen, and I always loved that about it.”
This was not Renfrow’s first foray into poetry — she’s done it for school, but didn’t enjoy it much then. This time, it was different, she said.
“Now that I’m older … I can actually analyze the poems,” she said.
Of the sign containing her poem, Renfrow said it feels “really cool to have my own thing,” and that she’d like to write more poetry in the future. Besides the ocean, she takes inspiration from the things closest to her.
“Mostly the things that surround me, like my family, my friends, my surroundings,” she said.
Blake Gillis, a student at Mountain View Elementary, wrote in his poem that he’s a nature lover because of all the animals.
Zachary Harden chose to ruminate on a topic that’s well known among Alaskans — the dreaded mosquito.
“There’s tons of them,” he said.
Harden was a newcomer to poetry when he sat down to pen his winning piece.
“It was pretty easy,” he said. “I’ve never done it before, but it wasn’t that hard.”
Though he doesn’t think he’ll write more poetry himself, Harden encouraged others to give it a try because “it’s fun.”
Frates said, to his knowledge, this is the first poetry path on the central Kenai Peninsula.
“I knew it would be huge. Eighty-six participants I think even exceeded my expectations,” he said. “And that is a tribute really to the parents, to the students and in particular to the teachers in the local schools. … We did a poetry call to all the schools here in the Kenai area, first grade through twelfth grade, and so that collaboration with the local schools was awesome, because … most of the teachers we contacted were thumbs up, they were onboard right away.”
Frates plans to expand Pathways of Poetry to other Kenai parks and trail systems. The theme will be switched up, and the project may be expanded to include adults, he said.
The winning students are Logan Dosko, Melita Efta, Arianna Hensley, Maxwell Howland, Evony Stuller, Rebekah Weeks, Nikolas Bezdecny, Marissa Moffis, Eli Morris, Harden, Gillis and Renfrow.