PROVO The trail leading up to Ensign Peak Nature Park is in dire need of some maintenance.
Elder M. Russell Ballard's reply, directed at the leaders of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation, which built the monument in 1996: "Go get your boots."
"I don't know that I can walk up there with two 'Mickey Mouse' knees or not," said Elder Ballard, an apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who the foundation honored Friday for his dedication to preserving the church's historic sites.
The Mormon Historic Sites Foundation presented Elder Ballard with the Junius F. Wells Award for his involvement in the development of several historic monuments, including Ensign Peak Nature Park and This Is the Place Heritage Park, during a dinner at the BYU Conference Center in Provo.
"I think if we lose this history we will lose something that will be irreparable," Elder Ballard said after accepting the award. "I fear many of our young people simply don't know the price that has been paid by their forefathers."
If done properly, a historic monument can inspire visitors, "to feel the fire of their predecessors in their bones," he said.
In maintaining, as well as building historical markers, The Mormon Historic Sites Foundation has an obligation to pursue excellence, he said.
Elder Ballard reiterated the importance of commemorating American history as well.
"The hand of the Lord, without any question, was in the founding of the United States," he said.
Elder Ballard's forefather Joseph F. Smith, a former president of the LDS church, also worked to preserve history by encouraging Junius F. Wells to purchase the former home of church founder Joseph Smith Jr. The award was named for Wells.
"How appropriate to honor Elder Ballard , who has continued the tradition, who shares the vision of his great grandfather in this great work," said Richard Lambert, vice chairman of the Mormon Historic
Sites Foundation. He presented Elder Ballard with the award, a statue of Wells.
Elder Ballard has been working with the organization since its formation in 1992 as the Ensign Peak Foundation. Independent of his service as an apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Ballard, along with several others, took it upon himself to battle the encroaching urban development of Ensign Peak, the historic hill where Brigham Young declared the Salt Lake Valley to be an "ensign to all nations."
Since that time, he has worked to preserve several other church history sites, including the burial site of the church's founder, Joseph Smith Jr., and his family's farm.
"He has not been assigned to do this," said Michael Hutchings, trustee of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation, "He just has a great love for Mormon history and for preserving Mormon history. He's
independently decided to spend some of his time and his effort to work on these projects."Elder Ballard is the third person the foundation has honored. President Gordon B. Hinckley was presented with the first award in May 2005.