Memorial to mark first encampment in valley

When the "Mormon Trail Wagon Train - 150 Years" reaches Salt Lake Valley July 22, tens of thousands of people will welcome it in ceremonies at This Is Place State Park at the mouth of Emigration Canyon.

But that's not where the original pioneers stopped in 1847. Instead, as they emerged from the canyon, they followed the south bank of Emigration Creek five miles to a place where Emigration and Parleys creeks come close together. There, at what is now 1700 South and 500 East in Salt Lake City, they spent the night. This historic spot, the first Mormon encampment in the Salt Lake Valley, has never been marked or recognized.That will soon change. As their sesquicentennial project, Salt Lake Emigration Stake and Salt Lake Wells Stake, where the site is situated, are building a historic theme park with a monument honoring those first arrivals.

"It's an ambitious undertaking that will stretch our people financially as well as physically," Emigration Stake Pres. Richard G. Hinckley said. "But we felt that a stake with a name like ours had special reason to tackle a project that will not only honor the pioneers who so willingly stretched themselves, but will also bless the community for generations with a place of beauty and inspiration."

Wells Stake Pres. Marlin S. Miller agreed. "We're thrilled to have this park within our stake boundaries, and our members will support it enthusiastically with their labor," he said.

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve and chairman of the Church Sesquicentennial Committee, noted the park will tell a little-known part of the pioneer story.

"It will be a lasting memorial honoring the faith and sacrifice of those who arrived here 150 years ago and prepared this valley as the center place of the Church and as a beautiful place in which to live," he said.

A service station once occupied the site. Toxic problems have been eliminated by removal and replacement of 4,200 tons of soil. With the stake's agreement to pay some legal costs, the oil company has donated the property.

It was a different sort of place in 1847 when the Pioneers arrived. Thomas Bullock, the party's official journalist, describes grass 10 to 12 feet high as they came off the bench into the valley. But, he wrote, "after wading through thick grass for some distance, we found a place bare enough for a camping ground, the grass being only knee-deep but very thick."

The new park, designed by landscape architect Stuart Loosli of Emigration Stake, will attempt to capture some of that feeling. Boulders piled along the eastern side will represent the Wasatch Mountains. A path through them will represent Emigration Canyon, and a dry streambed will represent Emigration Creek. The name of each of the pioneers who camped here will be engraved on boulders in the "mountain" and along the streambed.

Descendants of those first campers may call Utah Sesquicentennial Council, 801-533-3597, for further information about honoring their ancestors.

A monument erected by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers will tell the story of the first encampment.

"We want everyone to be involved, to feel ownership in the project, to be able to tell their grandchildren, `I helped build this park,' " said William B. Smart, project chairman. One way, in addition to a great deal of volunteer labor from both stakes, will be to have Primary children bring small stones and embed them in the concrete streambed representing Emigration Creek.

In calling on all units of the Church to join in a community improvement project on July 19, designated Worldwide Pioneer Heritage Day, the First Presidency announced that projects taking more than one day should culminate on July 19. That's what the Emigration and Wells stakes are working hard to accomplish - and to dedicate on July 22, exactly 150 years since the Pioneers camped there, a park and monument of historic importance in benefiting the Church and the community.

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