CAMP FLOYD STATE PARK, Utah County — There's nothing better than a day at school than one that involves a field trip, especially when that field trip involves a visit to Camp Floyd State Park in Utah County.
Camp Floyd has become popular for hands-on demonstrations for students thanks to Mark Trotter, the park manager. Trotter has brought history to life for thousands of kids through the years. Putting on an old 1850s-era military uniform to speak to them is one of his favorite parts of the job.
"You do not pull that trigger until I give the command to fire," Trotter explained to a group of elementary students during a visit Friday.
"Ready, aim, fire," he said to them. "Very good!"
Of course, there weren't any bullets, ballistics, or gunpowder in the old rifles, just a chance to imagine and learn.
"I have always loved the history here," Trotter said. "If we lose that history, it's gone. It's a passion of mine and this story isn't being told. It's kind of forgotten. In history books, you get maybe one paragraph if you're lucky about this place."
He loves telling stories about the U.S. Army base located where the park now stands; how President James Buchanan sought to keep track of Brigham Young; and how, nearly three years later, the Civil War took those soldiers away.
"When you see the light come on in their eyes and they realize what happened and what took place here, that's what makes it fun," said Trotter.
What this particular group of students visiting on Friday didn't know, though, was that they were his last class. After almost 18 years here, Mark Trotter is leaving.
"Yes, I am retiring. Today is the last day," he said. "It's been a neat experience. It really has. But it's just time."
Many credit Trotter for saving this site, turning what was an almost forgotten heritage park into a place worthy of spending a few hours.
"The visitation was very low and revenue was only about $2,700 for the year. It just needed a push is really what it was," said Trotter.
Pushing is exactly what he did. He and a team of contributors and volunteers gathered artifacts, reworked the museum to tell visually interesting stories and even renovated the old cemetery to honor those soldiers who died here. The field trips for kids, though, may be his proudest accomplishment.
"When we first started, we were begging schools to come," he said with a laugh.
Now, each year by Christmas they're booked every school day for the following spring.
"The teachers have found that it fits with their curriculums well with Utah history and with U.S. history. They always tell me it's their favorite field trip and they keep coming back, so I guess it's true," Trotters said with a chuckle.1 comment on this story
There will still be field trips for schools, Trotter just won't be in charge of them. But the park could continue to grow, thanks to his example — There are plans to possibly add on to the museum by building soldier barracks and a telegraph pole.
Teaching children about the site's history is how the stories live on. Even long after Trotter is gone.
"It's the people that made it successful," he said. "I might have guided it and directed it, but it was all those people that did it who cared and helped out."