SALT LAKE CITY — Hopping carefully from rock to rock along a wide but bumpy path, a young girl in a polka-dot dress with pink bows in her hair smiled as she jumped, enjoying the little game she had created for herself. Then, for a moment she paused.
Turning to stare at the dark figures next to her on the path, her head moved back and forth as if studying them. The statues, displaying a pioneer family pulling and pushing a handcart up the rocky hill, towered over her. All except one. Trailing behind the handcart, stands a statue of a child, following in the footsteps of her mother.
The young girl’s eyes lingered on the statue of the child longer than it had on the others, but then, as quickly as she had stopped, she turned back up the hill and continued her game of hopping from rock to rock.
The moment was small and likely went unnoticed by most of the people walking up and down the new landscaped paths at This Is the Place Heritage Park on Saturday, July 20. But it represents the kind of scenario that the new Pioneer Children’s Memorial was designed to create for children — an opportunity to connect with the pioneer children that came before them.
The new memorial, located near the northeast part of This Is the Place Heritage Park, was dedicated by President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, on Saturday morning after nearly two years of planning, design and construction.
Created to honor the pioneer children who died crossing the plains, the new memorial includes a monument with the names of 660 children known to have died while making the journey to the Salt Lake Valley. With large stones forming a curving path overlooking the Salt Lake Valley and statues of children scattered throughout the memorial’s landscape as it rises up the hill among trees and a trickling stream, the memorial grounds create a peaceful setting for both a reflection of and a connection to the pioneer experience.
“Hopefully it will affect everybody that lives in Utah and visits Utah to see that this park is celebrating the lives of children,” said President Ballard following the dedication of the memorial. “We hope that people who come here will pause and think of the price that has been paid for us to have this valley and all these beautiful resources.”
Speaking to a large crowd seated in the shade of a gazebo near the memorial on Saturday, President Ballard said the Pioneer Children’s Memorial would stand as a testament to the strength and faith of all pioneers, including pioneers today.
“We are all bound together, the 19th- to the 21st-century pioneers,” he said. “In our great journey to follow God’s teachings, which work miracles in our lives, we all appreciate the footsteps of faith walked by our forefathers across the great plains. And because of that, we will always hold them in great esteem and honor.”
President Ballard was joined by Ellis Ivory, chair for This Is the Place Foundation; Lane Summerhays, president of Days of ’47, Inc.; and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in speaking at the memorial’s dedicatory services. Other Church leaders also attended the event.
Representing the state, Gov. Herbert said that pioneers and immigrants are the heart and soul of Utah and its history.
“We have people who are first-generation pioneers coming here today for the same reason that people came in 1847. We welcome one and all,” he said, adding that Utah has always been a place of refuge for people of all faiths seeking freedom and liberty.
Honoring that legacy, along with motivating people to continue it, is part of the purpose of the memorial, he said.
Following the dedicatory ceremony, Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, shared her impression of the new memorial and what it will mean for the children who come to visit it.
“I hope that it draws them to their heritage,” she told the Church News. “I hope it draws them to those who came before us because that will strengthen our children today. … These 660 children left such a legacy of faith and courage for the children of today. And children today need faith and courage as they face their own trials and walk in different ways.”
Reflecting on the legacy of the children whose names now appear etched in the memorial stones overlooking the Salt Lake Valley, Sister Jones said: “There’s a spirit here. I hope that everyone who comes here will feel the spirit of these beautiful children and that they will be strengthened by them.”