A BRIEF HISTORY AND THE PURPOSE OF HERITAGE TOURS
The history of Heritage Tours goes back to 1974, when Bob Eliason suggested to an American Fork Stake Presidency that they should consider a Church History tour for the Seminary students of American Fork High School. Permission was granted and the first tour began in June of 1974. This tour was called the American Fork Seminary Tour and was made up of 45 students, one bus, and all were seminary graduates. The next year the group grew to two busses and was called the Tri Stake Seminary Tour. The tours were camping trips—cooking their own meals, sleeping in tents, traveling for 17 days and covering almost 7000 miles.
In 1976 a General Authority of the church told the Stake Presidents that the Church could not sponsor the tour. The reason was because of liability concerns. However, permission was given that a private company could be organized if they so desired. With the help of many, Bob Eliason organized the tour company with a proposed name of “Pioneer Trails”. That name was then changed to “Heritage Tours” before the next tour in 1976. Because of the delay in granting the private company to form, the 1976 tour was not a church history tour, but a tour to southern California with 45 girls of the American Fork Cavettes pep club!
The emphasis for those participating on Heritage Tours at the beginning was one of a “pioneer experience”—hoping that the young people would get a feel for what the pioneers went through and experienced. From 1977 to 1993 the participants camped out in KOA campgrounds across the country. This made possible the “pioneer experience” through all the storms, wet sleeping bags, moldy tents, mosquitoes, and the limited facilities of some of the campgrounds. Yet, it became that special experience that was desired and helped the students to appreciate their pioneer heritage.
Then in 1994 a change was made. Because of severe weather for a couple years and also with a desire to improve the tour, the camping was stopped and the tour began using hotels and motels. This was done with some hesitation because of cost concerns. However, it turned out to be a great positive for the tour because of enhanced teaching opportunities and a better use of time.
Since 1994 a different approach to the tour was taken. The emphasis now turned to missionary work and mission preparation. The Book of Mormon was studied daily and students were encouraged to read the Book of Mormon within the three weeks of the tour. Not only this, but students were taught missionary skills of how to present the Book of Mormon to people they would meet in the hotels, eating places, rest stops, and other opportunities during the tour. Most of the tours had great success. Many times, over 400 Books of Mormon would be given out in the course of the three weeks tour across the country. This was a partial fulfillment of President Benson’s theme and request—to “flood the earth with the Book of Mormon”.
The last few years have seen another change in the emphasis of the tour. With the advent of “pass along cards” and the desire of the Brethren to have the fulltime missionaries put the Book of Mormon in the investigators hands, the approach now has turned to the “spiritual preparation” of the individual student. Though we visit many sacred, beautiful and inspiring sites across the Church and the Nation, we want the student to come to understand the principle—“it is not what we see, but how we feel” in these special places. This is what we want the student to remember and think about. We want the individual to come away from Heritage Tours knowing what they have felt is truly the Spirit of the Lord, speaking and testifying to them the truthfulness of the Gospel. If this is learned, we hope it will be a life changing experience.
This new emphasis spoken of above demands a lot from those who choose to go on this twenty-day tour. They must come on the tour because of their own desire to have the “experience”—not the pressure of parents or friends. They must prepare themselves by study before the tour begins. They must be obedient to the rules, standards, and policies of Heritage Tours. Only through these expectations can their experience be a rewarding one.
We are grateful to the teachers, chaperones, parents, students, bus and van drivers, and many others who have sacrificed their time to see that Heritage Tours happens. We thank you—it could not happen without you!