The Grays Harbor area members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints recently completed their second Mormon Pioneer Westward Trek re-enactment. The event is aimed at educating youth about the trials Mormon pioneers endured while making their way to the Salt Lake Valley in the mid-1800s.
From 1856 to 1860 some 3,000 Mormons made their way to the Salt Lake Valley in Utah.
“These pioneers trekked more than a thousand miles through heat and cold; through mud, sand and sometimes snow,” said Stake President Russ Larson. “They faced trials that required great faith and perseverance.”
Trek director Juliana Wallace noted in an email that many of the pioneers were youths themselves. The Trek is an opportunity for kids today to walk in the shoes of their ancestors.
“Our youth grow up singing songs about the pioneer children and hearing stories of heroic rescues on the trail,” Wallace said. “Hopefully, they will realize that they too are pioneers for those who will come after them.”
About 113 youths from the area and an additional 40 adults and volunteers got a first-hand look at the kind of perseverance it took to complete the original journey. This year the Trek started on July 19 near Cle Elum, crossed the Yakima River twice and trekked up Big Creek. The journey was finally completed on July 22 once participants made it 28 miles. While the distance cannot realistically compare to the original trek, Larson said it is enough to make people think about what their ancestors had to go through.
“There were blisters, twisted ankles and sore muscles,” Larson said. “I think all of them felt a huge sense of accomplishment and it helped them gain confidence that they can really do some hard things.”
Participants were divided into Trek families comprised of six to seven youths, and then they were paired with a married couple, “Mas and Pas.” Traveling 28 miles in four days and three nights meant participants camped in a new spot after each day’s hard work was completed. This year 17 handcart families were on the trail and their carts weighed in at 500 pounds.
Some took part in the event for the first time and were unsure of what to expect other than a good workout.
“All of them came with different expectations and with a different understanding of what was actually going to happen,” Larson said.
Ellie Jones of Montesano participated for the first time this year. Jones is 14 years old. She said it’s the authenticity of the event that made her join in on the arduous yet rewarding task of pulling handcarts.
“I just wanted to get some sort of an idea of the challenges my ancestors went through to get the freedom that they needed,” Jones said in an email.
Lindsey Blackett, a 12-year-old of Elma, said she expected the Trek to be tough-going and “horrible” but ended up enjoying herself.
“We walked 28 miles on our trek and I can’t imagine what they (ancestors) went through walking thousands of miles,” she said in an email.
For Joseph Johnson, 17, of Montesano, this marked his second trek re-enactment.
“I was expecting a good strengthening event, not only physically but spiritually as well and I’d say it lived up to both of those things,” he said in an email.
LDS churches throughout the country participate in Trek re-enactments, but this is only the second time in five years that LDS members of the Grays Harbor area have held the event. Larson said ideally he would like to see every child within the age range of 12 to 18 experience the trek re-enactment. However, with all the work that goes into the event it is not feasible on an annual basis.
“We’re a volunteer church, so we have 113 youths and another 40 adults giving up three days of their summer, and it takes about a year’s worth of planning to really pull it off,” Larson said. “There’s just a lot of behind the scenes work that goes with it.”
Johnson said that anyone who is curious about the event shouldn’t be wary of jumping in with both feet the next time it comes around.
“If you have any sort of idea or thought to go, just go,” he said. “You’ll grow in more ways than you could ever think of.”