SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn’t the typical Pioneer Day for one northern Utah couple as they wandered through This Is the Place Heritage Park Friday.
With parades, fireworks, races and rodeos canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, families had to find other activities to celebrate the anniversary of Latter-day Saint pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
Many — though not as many in years past due to capacity and social distancing rules — found themselves milling around the park on the east side of the valley on a hot, sunny Friday, taking time to stop at the various monuments and historical buildings.
A smiling couple from Kaysville with their newborn baby stopped to browse through the park’s ZCMI store.
“This is a first. It’s kind of a substitute for our usual activities,” Jameson Wright said. “We usually watch the parade or barbecue with family to celebrate.”
Jameson and Malorie Wright said this was the first time they’ve been to the heritage park because they usually go to Handcart Days in Kaysville or catch the Days of ‘47 Parade in downtown Salt Lake City. Both celebrations were canceled this year.
Rather than get together with extended family members, Malorie Wright said they are holding a small get-together with close family to enjoy food and light off fireworks.
Most people at the park were social distancing among family groups and many were wearing masks while enjoying outdoor activities.
People milled around while enjoying ice cream or stopped by some of the open shops and buildings. As the day wore on, children splashed in the creek near the Pioneer Children’s Memorial and ran around the splash pad to find some relief from the heat.
Anastasia Harman from Eagle Mountain was at the park with a sister from Idaho and a sister-in-law from Oregon who are in town for a wedding. The women brought their children and were finishing up lunch under some trees by the splash pad.
Harman said she doesn’t usually go out on Pioneer Day, but decided to come out this year to enjoy some pioneer history and spend some time with her family.
“I like my kids to experience the history of the pioneers and to know how good life is right now,” Harman said as tears welled in her eyes. “Life’s been hard with COVID, but at least we don’t have to trek; we have a good life.”
She said they would be celebrating tonight by having chili and cornbread as a tribute to the pioneers.
They were some of the lucky ones who could enjoy the park on Pioneer Day.
Cliff Harris, the park’s programming director, said online tickets sold out before the park opened at 10 a.m. In order to keep guests safe, they reduced admissions to the park, closed some buildings and canceled big events and parties to stay within state and county guidelines for being open during the pandemic.
He also said they weren’t having people walking around dressed in period clothing because visitors often want to take photos with them, which would violate social distancing guidelines.
“The hardest part about this year is we were expecting to have our biggest year yet in terms of admissions, conferences and parties,” Harris said. “We had just finished training staff and preparing for this incredible year, but we had to lay off a lot of our staff and reduce gatherings due to the closures and restrictions.”
Donning a pink bonnet and mask, Carolyn Savage-Wright from Provo, along with her husband, their son and two granddaughters, made their way to the Pioneer Children’s Memorial, one of the newest attractions at the park.
“We do something pioneer related every year on the 24th,” Savage-Wright said. “We want our kids to have that kind of courage, that kind of dedication and that kind of character that was standard among the pioneers.”
She wandered around the children’s memorial, stopping to pull her granddaughters close and tell them the history of her pioneer family.
“We always tell the kids their stories,” Savage-Wright said. “We come up here often on Sundays, and we try to do something that is really oriented toward pioneers on the holiday.”