GOLDEN POND, Ky. — When she was younger, Monika Flake remembers poking fun at her mother for keeping an old dress from the 19th century among her belongings. Earlier this week though, Flake found a good use for the dress.
Flake was one of 70 teenagers to participate in a re-enactment of the Mormon pioneer trek of the 1840s. Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, migrated extensively during the church’s first two decades of existence, moving from the Finger Lakes region of New York eventually to Nauvoo, Ill., where they settled from 1839-1848.
In 1846, many Mormons moved westward under the leadership of Brigham Young, eventually settling in Utah territory. The trek from Illinois to Utah has been re-enacted by many Mormon churches around the country. The local re-enactment was organized through a set of Mormon congregations in Western Kentucky. Kids 14-18 could participate.
Participants gathered at Land Between the Lakes on Wednesday to start the re-enactment, which ran through today. Kids were split into groups with adult leaders. The trek ran over 20 miles on LBL trails with participants sleeping in the park’s campgrounds overnight.
No electronic devices were allowed on the trail. Participants wore period clothing and hauled their supplies in covered wagons.
Flake did another trek re-enactment with her family when she was 10, though she said it was much less intimidating. She said it only lasted a day and didn’t require period dress. Preparing for the youth trek Wednesday, she was excited to do something more intensive.
“You get to appreciate what the pioneers did in the old days,” said Flake, 15.
Ben Weber, one of the trek’s organizers, said that between kids and adults, they had 95 people participate in this year’s trek. Pat Wright, another organizer, said they tried to set up challenges for each team to mirror the difficulties of the original journey. If a team’s wagon lost a wheel, for example, they would have to fix it using tools provided for them.
Weber thinks the re-enactment is spiritually cleansing for participants.
“Going through the hardships brings about opportunities and refines the person,” Weber said. “When you get away from the world, you can focus on yourself. You can see into your inner self.”
Christie Wall, another organizer, said most of the participants have studied the stories of the original journey. Most of the adult leaders, she said, use the stories in working with the kids.
“If the kids are like, ‘My feet hurt,’ the adults will say, ‘let me tell you a story about that…,’” Wall said. “You complain, you’re getting a story.”
Eve Inman, 17, another participant, made her dress for the trek with help from ladies at her church in Princeton. While this was her first trek, she said she was excited to try it.
“I like not exactly the pulling (of the wagon) but whenever we are sitting around and cooking the pioneer food,” she said. “It’s a really good opportunity.”
REACH DENNIS O’NEIL at 270-887-3237