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Church Leader Gives Congressional Testimony on Martin's Cove

Bishop H. David Burton testifies in support of the Martin's Cove Land Transfer Act

Washington, D.C. -- May 16, 2002
Bishop H. David Burton, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told U.S. congressional representatives that no group or government agency would have devoted the financial and human resources that the Church has to establish Martinís Cove as the significant historical destination it has become.

In oral and written testimony today in support of H.R. 4103, the Martinís Cove Land Transfer Act, Bishop Burton told members of the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands that the history of the Martin and Willie handcart immigrants is "probably the most tragic, yet at the same time the most heroic single event in Mormon pioneer experience of the 19th century." He went on to explain: "It is a story that deserves telling and retelling. That is our purpose in wanting to acquire Martinís Cove."

The Church-owned Mormon Handcart Visitorsí Center is located near Martinís Cove. A five-year cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows the Church access to the cove. H.R. 4103 would permit the Church to purchase from the BLM at fair market value the Martinís Cove site and adjoining land needed to access the site.

Regarding the purchase price, Bishop Burton informed committee members: "The Church will be required to pay fair market value calculated on the historic value of Martinís Cove. ... I can assure you the price we will pay for Martinís Cove will exceed what most Wyoming ranchers would pay for BLM rangeland."

In his testimony, Bishop Burton highlighted the Churchís considerable experience in hosting visitors and caring for historic sites. "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has significant and valuable experience in handling large numbers of public visitors," Bishop Burton said. So far this year, the Church has hosted over 5 million visitors at 15 visitors centers and 13 historic sites.

To accommodate visitors, considerable improvements have been made to the Church-owned area near Martinís Cove with much of the labor donated by Church members. In addition to the visitors center itself, a vehicle bridge across the Sweetwater River has been rebuilt, parking lots and public restrooms have been installed, water wells drilled, and construction completed of a chapel, a shop, housing for volunteers, administrative facilities and ranch operating facilities.

Bishop Burton explained to the committee that the Church has established and developed the Mormon Handcart Visitorsí Center as a memorial to the pioneers who suffered great hardship and death during their handcart journey from Iowa City to the Salt Lake Valley in the fall of 1856. "The courage and sacrifice of these marooned pioneers in 1856 and their rescuers is one of the great heroic stories of the American pioneer era," he said.

The story of these faithful immigrants and their rescue from perilous winter storms is told with pictures, journal excerpts and other first-hand accounts from those who perished and those who survived. After touring the visitors center, many visitors take the time to pull a replica handcart along the trail to Martinís Cove.

Since the opening of the Mormon Handcart Visitorsí Center in May of 1997, over a quarter of a million people have visited the site to learn about the pioneers who suffered and eventually triumphed in this remote area of Wyoming. The Church wants to preserve this history of the Church, of Wyoming and of the American West to share it with all who come to visit.

Bishop Burton repeated remarks made by President Gordon B. Hinckley, world leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at the 3 May 1997 dedication ceremony for the Mormon Handcart Visitorsí Center. President Hinckley emphasized that the center is a place where the history of the past is taught, where the "tale of the great migration of people [is] remembered and spoken of with love," in a spirit of reverence and solemnity.

The subcommittee also heard testimony from President Lloyd C. Larsen, president of the Riverton Wyoming Stake, who spoke on behalf of the nearly 55,000 Latter-day Saints who are citizens of Wyoming. President Larsen presented to the subcommittee petitions from nearly 6,000 Church members of voting age from 101 communities in Wyoming expressing their support of legislation to convey Martinís Cove to the Church.

President Larsen reported on the considerable volunteer work completed by Wyoming Church members in cooperation with the BLM to improve the handcart visitorsí center and surrounding lands. He also reviewed the Churchís unsuccessful efforts to acquire other historic lands in Wyoming to trade for the Martinís Cove property.