Youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints paid tribute to the pioneers of their religion by re-enacting the difficult trek Mormon pioneers made on foot across the plains longer than 150 years ago.
Landon Johnson, a rising senior at Lake Norman High School, said he felt a bond he’d never before felt for the pioneers.
“Trek was an eye-opening experience for the local LDS youth,” said Johnson of Mooresville. “We literally walked in the pioneers’ footsteps and learned of their hardships. I found myself humbled and I developed a greater respect for the trials they endured. It is important for us to learn from our past in order to succeed in our future.”
The pioneer trek is done in memory of the nearly 3,000 Mormon emigrants who traveled 1,300 miles on foot from Iowa City, Iowa, to Salt Lake City, Utah, from 1856-1860. According to lds.org, the purpose of the pioneer trek is to, “experience firsthand the faith and determination of the pioneers.”
More than 100 teens, ages 14 to 18, from the Lake Norman, great Charlotte and Rock Hill, S.C., participated in the July 7-9 trek during which they pulled handcarts across 15 miles in North Carolina.
“All the walking was tough. Really tough,” said Gastonia resident Jared Dawson, 15.
“But knowing that our ancestors walked over 1,200 miles, more than 80 times than what we walked, really made me see how easy we have it. While they endured relentless physical hardships, ours today will be spiritual hardships – and way more dangerous.”
Colton and Naomi Ennis, a brother and sister living in York, S.C., experienced the journey together.
“Trek helped me understand the pioneers better,” said Naomi Ennis. “I envy the faith they had to continue on under all their difficult circumstances.”
“I really enjoyed being on the trek,” said Colton Ennis. “It helped to strengthen my testimony in following and obeying our Heavenly Father.”
On the pioneer trek, youth are required to wear pioneer attire, including long-sleeved shirts, straw hats, bonnets, and long skirts. In groups, they pull supplies in a handcart, a 4-foot by 4-foot box centered over an axle with wagon wheels and a large horizontal crossbar in front for pushing or pulling.
No electronic devices are allowed; each night they celebrated their journey with pioneer activities including stick pulls, square dances, and singing around a campfire.
Teens were organized into families with an older mother and father that made sure each family worked together to overcome obstacles.
Levi Ward, a 16-year-old living in Rock Hill, S.C., enjoyed the close relationships he made on the pioneer trek. “I really enjoyed going out there and making new friends in the family I was assigned to.”
According to youth leaders, the trek is a chance for the young people today to appreciate what they have and appreciate what their ancestors went through.
“I was impressed by the number of times the youth pulled together without complaint to overcome an obstacle or help someone who was struggling,” said Janet Melonakos, Stake Young Women’s president. “It was hot and the kids pushed handcarts for 15 miles in two days but still looked beyond themselves to help the people around them. It was a great experience and I think they all gained a greater appreciation of the pioneers.”
“It was a very hot, sweaty, and physically demanding experience,” said Dawson. “But I would do it again in a heartbeat, as I’m sure many of the other youth would.”
Of the 106 young men and women who participated, these are from the region:
Cornelius: Evan Clark, Natalie Martin, Haley Martin, Bianca Myers, Fabiana Veliz and Abigail Woolley.
Huntersville: Natalia Beaumont, Gus Beaumont, Derek Bole, Cameron Christensen, Allison Christensen, Jarom Cobb, Zachary Dawson, Aidan Fannin, Camryn Tilley, Sydney Woolley and Spencer Woolley
Lake Norman: Annalena Bellingham, Savanna Cordon, Taelor Cordon, Jared Griffin, Jacob Howes, Landon Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Ashlee Milton, Thomas Murray, Madelyn Russell, Heather Smith, Danya Tyler, Jacob Walker, Tyler White, Caleb White and Collin Williams.
Mooresville: Chelsey Adcock, Emily Adcock, Emily Brown, Kelson Dowding, Conner Dowding, Ethan Jones, Katja Ludlow, Erik Ludlow, Kevyn Ludlow and Sabrina Needles .
Moutain Island: David Covington, Thayer Davis, Micheal Fowler, Clayton Fowler, Benjamin Gutierrez, Emmalyn Hansen, Hannah Hansen, Carson Lee, Emily Parker, Chase Parker, Carmen Rios, Zach Sorensen, Emily Wheatley, Katie Zielke and Alexa Zuleta.