Continuing a tradition begun in 1916 and revived in 1992, some 350 hikers on July 26 ascended the peak where Brigham Young and other Church leaders raised "an ensign to the nations" signaling the gathering of the righteous as foretold in scripture.
The Ensign Peak Family Hike, one of the annual "Days of '47" activities, is sponsored each year by a citizens group called the Ensign Peak Foundation, with the support of Salt Lake City Corp. and the Church.The foundation and city are endeavoring to raise funds to preserve the hill leading to the peak as a nature park with a hiking trail and markers to tell its history. The $650,000 project, to be completed in 1996 and 1997 for the Utah Centennial and Pioneer Sesquicentennial, will also repair a monument at the top of the peak, place a new bronze plaque on its face, and beautify its base.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve was the featured speaker at a one-hour program preceding the hike. Mayor Deedee Corradini of Salt Lake City also gave remarks, and Sam Souvall of the city council gave a greeting. The Top Brass Band, a group of five musicians, performed special arrangements of several Church hymns. Pres. Paul A. Hanks of the Salt Lake Stake was master of ceremonies.
Elder Ballard said he was speaking as a man wearing three hats, one as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, another as a member of the Utah Centennial Commission and the third as chairman of the Church Pioneer Sesquicentennial Committee.
He said Church leaders are enthused about and support the nature park project. He said the Church will build a memorial garden "where people can come and learn a little bit more about the spiritual meaning of Ensign Peak." The garden will be located in a corner of the parking lot of the Salt Lake Ensign Stake Center, adjacent to the trail leading to the peak.
The apostle read statements from early Church leaders, including Joseph Smith, who prophesied that the Saints would "become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains."
He then quoted Wilford Woodruff as saying, "When this revelation was given, no man among us knew anything about Salt Lake or the Rocky Mountains. But it has been fulfilled before our eyes."
Elder Ballard referred to a recent vacation trip he took with many members of his extended family to Kirtland, Ohio; Palmyra, N.Y.; and to Nauvoo, Ill., where the Pioneers' trek began.
"The hardship and the suffering of the saints as they trudged and fought their way through the mud flats of Iowa is hard to imagine," he commented. "Today cities and counties in Iowa are planning a grand sesquicentennial commemoration of the Latter-day Saints' trek through the state of Iowa in 1846. Civic groups, Boy Scouts and county officials, most of whom are not members of the Church, are busy marking the trail in preparation to honor these noble, brave pioneers."
He mentioned also the hardship of the Saints in moving through Nebraska, Wyoming and finally into what is now Utah.
Brigham Young, he recounted, was president of the Quorum of the Twelve and sought to know the will of the Lord.
"Through much fasting and prayer, President Young had a vision of Joseph Smith, who showed him the mountain that we now call Ensign Peak immediately north of Salt Lake: `An ensign fell upon the peak, and Joseph said, "Build under the point where the colors fall, and you will prosper and have peace." ' "
The vision was so clear that President Young knew the place where the Saints should settle as soon as they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, Elder Ballard said. He suggested that his listeners go to the mouth of Emigration Canyon, where the pioneers first entered the valley and see how prominent Ensign Peak is from that vantage point.
"As Brigham Young surveyed the valley, he was looking for Ensign Peak, and when he saw it, that's when he said, `This is the place,' " Elder Ballard noted.
The group entered the valley July 24, 1847, on a Saturday, and on the following Monday, President Young and other Church leaders ascended to the peak and surveyed the valley, Elder Ballard related.
"There are several versions of the story, but the most reliable I could find is that Heber C. Kimball, when he was atop the peak, took his yellow bandanna, which had black spots on it, tied it to the cane of Willard Richards, and waved it as an ensign to the nations," Elder Ballard recounted. "And Heber C. Kimball proclaimed this is a rallying spot where the righteous and the oppressed of the world could gather for refuge."
Elder Ballard explained the word ensign means signal, sign, identifying symbol, standard or banner. He referred to prophecies in Isa. 11:12; 5:26; and 18:3 that the Lord would lift up an ensign to the nations to assemble the outcasts of Israel and dispersed of Judah.
"This peak has been a source of poetry, song and sermons," he said, quoting a poem from Parley P. Pratt and the words by Joel H. Johnson to "High on the Mountain Top." (Hymns, No. 5.)
"The pioneer celebrations in the days beginning in 1849 occurred on this hill," Elder Ballard explained. "By the mid-1850s Ensign Peak had gained a place in the hearts of the people, both in sight and symbol. During the pioneer jubilee of 1897, the Salt Lake Herald newspaper placed a wooden flagpole on top of the peak, and that became the official flag-raising point for the entire state.
"Starting in 1916 and continuing off and on for two decades, Utahns honored the historic site by hiking to its summit, usually as part of the state's 24th of July celebration."
In 1934, Elder Ballard said, the Ensign Stake of the Church erected a monument on the peak, consisting of stones sent by 80 Church units. George Cannon Young, a grandson of Brigham Young, provided the design for the monument which stands 18.47 feet high, signifying the year the Saints entered the valley. An estimated 500 attended the unveiling July 26, 1934.
"Since that date, little has been accomplished toward protecting and memorializing the peak," Elder Ballard said. Referring to the project to beautify the peak, he said: "The goal is to complete the trail head and trails in time for the Utah Centennial, which is next year, and then to complete the work by 1997, which is the sesquicentennial anniversary
of the pioneers' comingT. Let's get behind it and make it happen, and it will require our financial and our work support to make this the marvelous thing that we have in mind."
Elder Ballard said Utah is enjoying unprecedented growth in industry and population. "The prophecies of this area are being fulfilled before our very eyes, and we must welcome, teach and share the gospel with all people since its teachings are the basis for the values and good life that the world is now recognizing exists here in the tops of the mountains."
He mentioned that the nations of the earth will focus on Utah in 2002 for the Winter Olympics. "Let us prepare for that event and for the centennial and sesquicentennial celebrations by beautifying this most important historical site, the Ensign Peak."
In her remarks, Mayor Corradini praised the partnership between the city and private citizens to beautify the peak. "We need to preserve this peak, and not just preserve the peak but to make it into a nature trail that explains to others what the real meaning of this peak is so that we can remember our heritage."
At the top of the peak, hikers continued the tradition of singing "High On the Mountain Top." They gazed at Emigration Canyon to the east, the Salt Lake Valley vista to the south and the Great Salt Lake to the west. Precisely at sundown, bugler Lamont Anderson played "Taps" as the sun sank below the lake's Antelope Island.