The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

July 16, 2014

Local youth participate in 20-mile Mormon pioneer trek

In this digital age, few teen-agers or even adults would want to give up their cell phones and tablets for three days.

But more than 60 local youths from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints willingly gave up pretty much all modern conveniences last week as they participated in a Mormon pioneer trek simulation July 10-12. The youth are members in the Youngstown Ohio Stake of the church which includes congregations in Ashtabula, Warren, Alliance, Youngstown, Lisbon, Rootstown; and New Castle, Pa.

Ron Manhardt from New Castle, planning committee member, said the nearly 20-mile trek was on an abandoned railway line beginning at Pymatuning State Park in Jamestown, Pa., Thursday and ending Saturday at a farm in Dorset.

The teens were grouped into families with an adult couple as their “Ma” and “Pa.” Each family had a handcart to pull in order to transport the few basic supplies they were allowed. Handcarts were used by thousands of pioneers as they migrated to the Salt Lake valley from 1856 to 1860. The early settlers had to endure a lot of hardships and many of them died before reaching Utah.

Ken and Cathe Dickey of Kingsville were one of the six couples who volunteered to be Ma’s and Pa’s. As parents of 16 children, the Dickeys said they are quite used to working with teens.

“There wasn’t one bit of arguing. When they saw one person was tired they jumped right in. I never had a family trip where there wasn’t arguing for three days,” said Ken Dickey.

Cathe Dickey said the kids were great. She twisted her knee and was limping a little, so the kids made her get into the cart and ride.

The Dickeys’ children, Kiel and Adrianna, also participated in the trek as well as Allyson Thayne, Maile Mizuba, Miranda and Mark Myers from the Ashtabula Church. Among the adult helpers were Galynn Rossiter, Shannan Mack, John Daughtry, Mary and Howard Kligge.

For the teens, the trek experience included meager meals of jerky, broth and biscuits. For breakfast they cooked eggs in a dutch oven over hot coals. At night they slept in an open field with only a blanket or sleeping bag. In the morning and at night the Ma’s and Pa’s prayed, read Scripture with the youth and talked about some of the sacrifices and hardships of the pioneers.

Eric Clark, a church youth leader from Salem and one of the trail bosses, told the youth at the onset, “Your ancestors can’t walk in your shoes, but you have the chance to trek in their shoes and feel a little of what it’s like.”

Although the weather was hot and dry, the trail had a lot of low areas where the youth had to deal with lots of mud and water. The water made it especially difficult for the girls who were dressed in long skirts like the pioneer women would have worn.

“I’m exhausted. I knew it was going to be hard. I did a mini cart pull in Nauvoo so I kind of knew what it was like. Adding the pioneer clothes and extra weight in the cart, I knew it would be harder,” said Allyson Thayne. “The best part (of trek) is being able to sit down and talk with the family and get to know them.”

Maile Mizuba said she is getting ready for cross country in the fall and that helped her prepare for the trek. “The toughest part was the big rocks and the rough ground. You had to push to get over the rock.”

Jonathan Wagley from Alliance has ancestors who were handcart pioneers. “It’s very emotional. I’ve been to a lot of church historic sites and in Nauvoo we found a lot of our ancestors in a big book,” he said. “Doing trek makes me think a lot about them. But we know they had it so much harder.”

 Taylor Busch from Warren said, “It was a humbling experience. The pioneers gave everything they had to pursue a religion they believed in with all their heart.”

James S. Kirk of Salem, president of the church’s Youngstown Stake (region), said, “Our church is family based, family oriented. We preach about the importance of the family, taking care of each other. The trek is our one opportunity to show our youth how families work together, deal with challenges, embrace successes together. We intentionally put stress in front of them, stress being difficulties, challenges, being tired, that’s our design. We simulate that with our trek experience. They develop a new appreciation for each other. Learning about the pioneers is a secondary benefit.”

Kirk said the youth faced an extremely difficult obstacle on the trail the first day. They reached a ravine where the trestle over the river was half gone and there was no way around it. The only way was 40 or more feet up to the floor of the rickety old trestle which was missing most of its boards. Each handcart had to be emptied and then lowered into the ravine where the handcart was hooked to ropes and pulled up the trestle wall. Then they formed an assembly line up to bring their supplies up and reload the handcart.

Even though they were tired, there was also time for fun on Friday afternoon when the youth participated in activities like learning to shoot a bow and arrow and a BB gun or make candles. In the evening there was a square dance.

Joseph Gruber from New Castle, counselor to the stake president, said trek is a great opportunity for the youth to bond with one another. “The stake is a pretty large region and this is an experience that unifies them.”

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