Local youths re-enact historic Mormon exodus
Faced with a four-day, three-night journey through the steep slopes of the Mount Hood wilderness, 17-year-old Taylor Kunz was confident.
'I'm excited for the hills,' said Kunz, a member of Powell Butte Ward. 'I like a challenge.'
But 'challenge' may be an understatement. Kunz and about 90 other Mormon youths from the Gresham Stake will spend the next few days wearing time-appropriate clothing, eating pioneer food and lugging a 500-pound wooden cart over a 20-mile stretch of the Barlow Trail at the base of Mount Hood.
And if that wasn't enough, the 'families,' made up of eight to 10 kids and a 'ma and pa,' will encounter other obstacles along the way, like a mob attack in the middle of the night and a draft of all the men to fight in the Mexican-American War, leaving the women to lug the carts up a steep hill alone.
'We wanted to place them in a setting where they would have an opportunity to experience the solitude of nature and reflect on the promises they've made,' said Dan Heath, who helped coordinate the trek.
But the grueling journey isn't just for fun. The group participated in the Pioneer Trek, a re-enactment of the 19th century Mormon Trek to the Salt Lake Valley in Utah, in which members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sought to escape religious persecution.
'The purpose is for us to develop an appreciation for the Saints, to draw closer to our Father in Heaven and to be better people,' said 'Trailboss' Rick Craft in his opening speech on Wednesday morning, July 20, at the church across from Centennial High School.
The trek included youths ages 14-18 from the seven wards in the community that make up the Gresham Stake. They are students at Reynolds, Barlow, Gresham, Corbett and David Douglas high schools. The Gresham Stake organizes a trek re-enactment every four years, and this will be the stake's third retreat.
'I hope I can get an understanding of what the pioneers went through,' said Erica Bradley, 16, of the Powell Butte Ward.
And experienced trekkers say that's exactly what they got. Recent Reynolds High School graduate Lindsay Paris, 18, of Crown Point Ward, returned for her second time after a tough experience four years ago.
'I learned how intense it would have been on the real thing,' she said. 'It made me really grateful for that they did.'
The experience not only allows the kids to connect to their religious heritage, but it also helps them in the rest of their lives.
'They can say, 'I now know that I can do incredibly hard things,' said Holly Farris, former trek participant and assistant to the public affairs director for the stake. 'They remember that forever.'