Nearly 1,000 Boy Scouts walked in Abraham Lincoln's footsteps when they took the Lincoln Trail Hike Saturday.
As a young man, Abraham Lincoln traveled from New Salem to Springfield to borrow law books from a friend. On Saturday, nearly 1,000 Boy Scouts from as far away as Texas and Georgia made the same 20-mile trek on the annual Lincoln Trail Hike, an 82-year-old tradition that pays tribute to Lincoln’s leadership and perseverance.
The Lincoln Trail Hike was part of Pilgrimage Weekend and is one of the oldest organized Boy Scout trails. Among those taking part in this year’s event were 14 Scouts from two troops in Roswell and Alpharetta, Ga., and two scouts from a troop in Houston.
The three Southern troops were inspired to follow Lincoln’s footsteps by assistant scoutmaster Kenneth Barton Jr., a former Springfield resident who earned his own trail medal as a boy. Now living in Georgia, Barton believes the trip is good for his young Scouts.
“Our desire is to make sure our kids do well in life and develop the values of Scouting and know right from wrong,” he said. “For a 12-year-old kid, it’s a huge thing, and basically it helps them to develop the spirit of really sticking to a task because it’s not the easiest thing in the world.”
The trail dates to 1926, when Springfield Scout Commissioner R. Allan Stephens believed young boys would have a better understanding of Lincoln’s determination by walking his path in their own shoes.
“This is something that the Scouts seem to feel is something to be very proud of,” said Maggie Carson with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. “Especially for us, there is historical significance and it teaches the kids what his life was like.”
Participants start at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site near Petersburg and end in Stuart Park in Springfield. Through a partnership with the IEPA, participants collect litter as they walk along the trail, Carson said. Aluminum cans are separated and recycled, with proceeds donated to the Boy Scouts of America.
“It involves the kids with the environment, and also we think it makes them better citizens,” Carson said.
Scouts who participate also must read a book about Lincoln and write a 300-word report before qualifying for the Lincoln Trail medal after they finish the hike.
For several of the Georgian Boy Scouts, the Saturday hike was somewhat challenging, according to Malik Jones, 12, of Alpharetta’s Troop 2206.
“I didn’t really expect it would be this hard, but it’s a pretty good experience,” he said about noon Saturday in Salisbury, the trail’s halfway point. “It’s pretty good especially for some of the newer boys who’ve never done this before.”
Terrence Davis, 13, who is also a member of the Alpharetta troop, was optimistic that the trail’s remaining few miles would not pose a problem.
“Thirteen miles, so far,” he said. “I’ll get the rest of the way. If it’s been 13 miles so far, a couple more miles won’t hurt.”
Davis was one of the first Scouts from Troop 2206 to finish the hike, touching the trail’s end sign at about 5:10 p.m. Davis and fellow scouts Ben Horne, 13, also of Troop 2206, and Josh Chandler, 14, of Roswell’s Troop 206, collapsed on a grassy bank in Stuart Park, waiting for the rest of the crew to arrive.
“I’m just happy we’re going to go back to the hotel,” Davis said. “I have never hiked more than five miles. It was amazing, I’m really going to look back on this and say, ‘Wow, when I was younger I really did that.’ I’m just happy I was able to do it with my friends and the scoutmasters, and I’m just happy we’re going to eat!”
Sprawled on the grass next to his friend, Horne looked up and smiled empathetically.
“I wouldn’t mind doing it again, but I wish I had a little more preparation before I went,” he said. “The only other thing I want to say now that it’s done is, where’s my medal? I think it’s good that we at least get medals and so we can put them on the uniform, because I think it’s something we probably deserve. It’s something most people won’t get to do in their lifetime.”
The weekend events often invite participants from various part of the country, said Dan O’Brien, with the Boy Scouts of America.
“Every year we seem to get a few people from one coast or another, showing up and participating,” he said. “This event is looking back on our roots and where we come from. It is amazing, the impact Lincoln has had worldwide. Two of my sons went on a Scout program in Japan and had some Lincoln patch stickers to hand out to friends as exchange gifts … kids there said, ‘Lincoln: for the people, by the people.’ I guess his legacy is bigger than his shadow.”
Rhys Saunders can be reached at (217) 788-1521.
Springfield native brings three troops from South for trail hike
By Rhys Saunders
Lincoln’s legacy and a desire to spread the word of Scouting provided the impetus for a Springfield native to bring three Southern troops to the Lincoln Pilgrimage this year.
Two troops from Roswell and Alpharetta, Ga., and one from Houston walked the trail Saturday after being inspired by assistant scoutmaster Kenneth Barton Jr., a former Springfield resident who made the hike as a child to earn the Lincoln Trail medal.
In 2003, Barton returned to his hometown and walked the trail with his son, Kenney Barton III.
“My son and I have been involved in Scouting since he was kind of small, and one of the things he had not accomplished that I had accomplished was to walk the Lincoln Trail,” Barton said. “Teenagers always have this desire to beat their father at something, and so I decided to ask my son if he’d go. In 2003, I was talking to the rest of the troop and they said, ‘Yeah, we want to go too.’”
Neither Barton nor his son walked the trail this year, but instead Barton said he hoped to spread the word of scouting to blacks within the Springfield community. He was a member of Troop 37, the second black troop established in Springfield in the 1960s.
“There is a group of us who are really talking about how we get scouting ingrained in African-American communities,” Barton said. “And these kinds of things help us. One of the neat things about (Troop) 206 is we have 12 Eagle Scouts, and we hope they can pass on the word of scouting.”
The experience provides Barton’s Scouts with not only a greater sense of values and perseverance, but also a history lesson most wouldn’t receive in Georgia.
“This is something unique that the other kids in Scouts don’t have (in Georgia),” he said. “Our kids get to learn about a very popular president, and when you’re living in the South you don’t hear a lot about it because Lincoln took down the Confederacy. It’s an opportunity for us to teach them something different.”
Rhys Saunders can be reached at (217) 788-1521.
Lincoln Trail Hike facts
-Approximately 1,000 scouts participated in the 63rd annual Lincoln Trail Hike.
-The Lincoln Trail Hike was held from 6 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Saturday, beginning at Lincoln’s New Salem State Park and ending at Stuart Park in Springfield.
-The hike began in 1926, and was started by R. Allan Stephens, a Scout commissioner.
-Lincoln completed his self-taught education in New Salem, often walking from his home to Springfield in order to borrow law books.
-Arthur Bennett was the first Scout to earn a Lincoln Trail Hike medal Nov. 6, 1926.
-More than 75,000 scouts throughout the United States have walked the trail.
-The trail is considered to be historically correct.