Church News and Events

Youngstown Ohio Stake Pioneer Trek Inspires Gratitude, Faith

Contributed By Nicki Wilpula, Church News contributor

  • 21 July 2014

Youth from the Youngstown Ohio Stake gained a greater appreciation for the handcart pioneers as they struggled through high water and other obstacles during their trek July 10–12. The nearly 20-mile trail was an abandoned railway line that extends from Pennsylvania into Ashtabula County, Ohio.  Photo by Barton Derby.

Youth from the Youngstown Ohio Stake participated in a difficult, yet rewarding, 20-mile trek July 10–12 that gave them obstacles they will never forget and a greater appreciation for their pioneer ancestors.

Trek chairman Jim Moore of Alliance said their route began at Pymatuning State Park in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, Thursday and ended Saturday at a farm in Ashtabula County, Ohio.

In the days leading up to the trek, Ashtabula County had been soaked with rain. Low areas on the old abandoned railway line filled with mud and water reaching waist high at some points.

Trail boss Eric Clark, a youth leader from Salem, 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.”

“It was a humbling experience to see what the pioneers went through but on a much smaller scale,” Tim Wright, who was one of six “Pa’s” on the trek, said. “We talked about the Martin Handcart Company that lost a lot of loved ones and likened that to the teens, how they may experience losses—maybe not physically, but spiritually. As they go through life they will be tried.”

Jonathan Wagley from Alliance has ancestors who were handcart pioneers. “Doing trek makes me think a lot about them. But we know they had it so much harder. We went through this deep puddle and got stuck in the mud. We were struggling and I thought about the 18-year-old boys who went back to help the handcart company. Some others came along and helped us. All we have to do is reach out, and Christ will take our hand. He’s always there for us.”

James S. Kirk, president of the Youngstown Stake, 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.”

Youth form an assembly line to bring their supplies up to where they could be reloaded after the handcart was emptied, lowered into the ravine, then hooked to ropes to be pulled up the trestle wall. Photo by Nicki Wilpula.

Water at times reached waist high on the trail of the Youngstown Ohio Stake youth trek July 10–12. It was especially difficult for the girls because the water weighed down their long skirts. Pictured leading the handcart for the women’s pull is Dixie Weisgarber from the Warren Ward. Photo Barton Derby.

Trail boss Matthew Seaman of Alliance leads the way for a handcart pushed and pulled by youth. Photo by Nicki Wilpula.


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 to bring their supplies up and reload the handcart.

“It was just amazing what they did, watching them,” Moore said.

“Yesterday (the first day) we had a lot of rough spots and it was tricky steering the handcart. We all motivated each other to continue,” said Ethan Saxey, a youth from Alliance.

“Before I was here I really didn’t know what pioneers went through. They went through so much more than we did, but we could feel a little of what they felt,” said Andrew Nichols of Youngstown. “We should be thankful for them because they are the ones who kept the gospel alive.”

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.

Taylor Busch, a youth from Warren, conducted the testimony meeting on Saturday. She said, “I know that Heavenly Father was with us. It was a humbling experience. It brings back the spirit of our ancestors because it gives us a time to ponder the sacrifices they made for us. The pioneers gave everything they had to pursue a religion they believed in with all their heart.”

Joseph Gruber from New Castle, Pennsylvania, and 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.”

The stake includes congregations in Ashtabula, Warren, Youngstown, Rootstown, Alliance, and Lisbon in Ohio and New Castle, Pennsylvania.

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. Photo by Nicki Wilpula.

Pulling the handcart are Jonathan Wagley from Alliance and Levi Dew from Lisbon. MacKenzie Dailey of Warren walks to the side and Ken Dickey from Ashtabula walks out in front. (Photo by Nicki Wilpula Photo by Nicki Wilpula.