ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — An educational attraction at the Minnesota State Fair is celebrating its fifth anniversary.
Even the creator of the Alphabet Forest wasn't sure if her low-budget project would last more than a year, the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/1o9FfdG ) reported.
Minnesota artist Debra Frasier created the first program of its kind at any state fair with few materials and support in 2010. Now the Alphabet Forest attracts 25,000 or more fairgoers each year.
"It was unprecedented for the state fair to put such a priority on showcasing literacy in Minnesota," Frasier said. "I had no organization behind me and no experience with this big a project. When I asked the team why they invited me to do this, they said it was because of my passion."
She has volunteered hundreds of hours building and operating the Alphabet Forest since its inception. At the end of this year's fair she will pass on her duty as the onsite program coordinator and resume her life in the studio.
"I'm leaving the legacy of the first and only full-time literacy area at a state fair in the nation," Frasier said. "Our pioneering efforts at the Alphabet Forest are being exported to schools and libraries. Next spring, I keynote a session at the Texas Library Association where we hope to inspire our closest fair rival to try a few of these literacy approaches."
The Alphabet Forest is located at in a shady area at Baldwin Park that's filled with colorful letters. It offers a wealth of creative activities and games that encourage kids to use words.
"I liked it best when a visitor called the forest an 'oasis' at the fair," Frasier said. "It's where story lives in real life. Kids say it's like a magic place."
One of the most popular programs is the word game. Kids scour the fairgrounds on a scavenger hunt of sorts, searching for two words that begin with each letter of the alphabet. Frasier estimates about 500,000 words will be collected and returned by the end of this year's Minnesota State Fair.
"Now kids are coming back year after year," Frasier said. "It's amazing when they throw their arms around me and the volunteers in red aprons who helped them in the past. The forest is an unusual place at the fair because it's quiet and calm. We are not selling anything. There's a feeling of safety."
The Alphabet Forest will also host 16 local authors and illustrators this year.
Renee Alexander, deputy general manager of the Minnesota State Fair, said education has been a priority since it began in 1854.
"Alphabet Forest activities are a perfect fit for bringing the educational component of our mission to life," Alexander said.
Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com