Atascocita area teens from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints recently returned from a rigorous three-day trek at Lake Somerville State Park re-enacting the Mormon pioneer's westward travels to settle in the Salt Lake Valley which would later become the state of Utah. Nicknamed Mormons by hostile opposers in the 1850s, the pioneers fled the eastern states to escape religious persecution. The first pioneers left with oxen-pulled wagons with plenty of supplies, but as the hostility intensified, the last travelers fled the area pulling handcarts loaded with nominal provisions. To help the teens get a taste of the pioneers' handcart experience, local leaders from the Latter Day Saint (LDS) church sponsored the rigorous three-day journey asking the teens to leave behind all cell phones, iPods, MP3 players, watches and other electronics to pull handcarts heavily loaded with water coolers and camping gear. James Banks, assistant superintendent of technology at Barbers Hill ISD, serves as the stake president and presides over the various LDS churches in the East Houston area. He explained the purpose of the trek. "The point of this activity was to unify our youth and help them find the strength through this experience to face the trials that they encounter in our day," he said. More than 40 adult leaders helped create the experience for the 63 teens in attendance. Each teen was placed into a family with a ma and pa and they immediately created a family banner and a cheer for roll call, receiving skit kits for the Friday night hoe down. The teens cooked every breakfast and supper over open campfire with their families at base camp, whereas lunch was always eaten out on the trail. Traveling six miles the first day, the teens chanced upon several dramatic vignettes where various adult leaders told stories from the pioneers' actual journals, encouraging them to have faith and to keep going. Atascocita High School (AHS) student Devin Coon said it was a challenge. "It was hard," she said. "We fought through it." AHS senior Paul Hansen said he loved being with his friends throughout the entire trek. "I loved pushing our handcart through the woods," he said. "You can't do it by yourself. You have to work together." "I was thinking about how the pioneers felt crossing the plains. They were tired, but they had to keep going. They probably felt overwhelmed as well,” said Summer Creek sophomore Alexander Hales. “The trek was tiring but fun,” said AHS graduate Alex Cummock. "I enjoyed pulling the wagon and talking at night time. That was really fun.” After breakfast on day two, the boys were called away from the families to perform a service project for the park, which represented the two year mission many young men (and women) volunteer to serve after they graduate. They cleared the pathways from the campsites to all of the restrooms. Just as in days past, the girls were still required to continue in their journey and thus experienced the women's pull. The boys returned in the afternoon to attend several classes including how to start a fire without matches, orienteering, making pioneer toys and amusements, spinning wool into yarn, weaving tapestries, rope making and leather branding, a trek memento. Finishing up the day with three legged races, potato sack races and a stick pull, a fireside by church leaders followed supper. The teens then loaded their wagons and trekked a mile to the hoe down where the teens learned and danced the Cumberland Square and the Salty Dog Rag dance. Saturday mid-morning the teens broke camp and prepared for the final pull where they were asked to pull the handcarts in silence for the last half of the trek. Upon arrival at their final destination, each teen was hand-delivered a letter from parents and were encouraged to find a secluded place to read their letters and spend time alone. The trek closed with a final meeting where the teens could stand and share their feelings. Many teens expressed the fact that the most touching part of the event was reading the letters from their parents. Traveling approximately 12 miles over rugged terrain in 95 degree heat, the LDS group consumed 450 gallons of water, averaging a little over four gallons per person. Serving as medicine man was practicing Kelsey Seybold physician's assistant Austin Montondon, who reported only minor injuries. Montondon said he was impressed with the tempo of the trek. "You can see a movie or read a book about this kind of a thing, but it doesn't give you an accurate account," he said. "When you participate in an activity such as this, you can actually feel a sense of reality of what the pioneers went through." Trek coordinators Chuck and Cheryl Eudaily of Humble agreed that it was a success. "We felt as though we've been on our own pioneer trek these several months we've been preparing for this. It has been a lot of work for many, many people." Siemens' engineering manager Billy Watts served as trail boss and said the teens had an experience that they will never forget. "I know I'll never forget the looks I saw in their faces," he said. PHOTOS: Students pull a wagon through a rocky trail while others push from behind; Ma, Tatum Stone of Baytown sits while Christian Shuler of Baytown and Alicia Mecado of North Shore look on. GPHS Senior Brett McCue helps Pa, John Stone of Summerwood, and Liberty's Samuel Clegg tie down the load. Sitting in front of Ma is Brian Minson of Baytown and Brandon Malone from Atascocita; Local teens from Atascocita and Summerwood gather for the beginning of the three day trek that took place at Lake Somerville State Park on June 10, 11, 12; Brandon Garza of Baytown on the left and AHS graduate Justin Malone on the right pull the handcart while the other family members Matty Coon of Summerwood, Anabel Perez of Northshore, Angie Ponce of Baytown and Christopher Turner of Deer Park assist in the effort. Meanwhile Ma, Christine Christoffersen, looks on.

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