For more than 20 years, the wagons of Western Heritage Foundation have provided thousands of Central Valley students the opportunity to experience firsthand the life of a pioneer traveling west to California in the 1800s.
For four days, students learn about California’s historical past as they journey more than 30 miles through the Sierra Nevada Mountains by authentic covered wagons.
“Traveling down a rugged trail in a covered wagon pulled by draft mules, cooking over an open campfire and sleeping under a starry sky is not the typical experience for students in the Central Valley,” said Michael Tomazin, Western Heritage Foundation’s Wagon Master.
Western Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which provides various Wagon Train adventures for fifth grade students. All staff members are unpaid volunteers and provide their own animals to be used on the voyage.
“Western Heritage Foundation is operated and funded solely by the generous efforts of volunteers and the general public. It is a struggle every year to ensure adequate resources so that we can continue providing this unique living history experience for students,” Tomazin added.
On May 15, Western Heritage Foundation completed its second and final Wagon Train trip of the year with about 30 students from Charleston Elementary School in Los Banos.
“What I hope my students learn from this experience is a better understanding of the hardships their ancestors went through trying to cross America, “ teacher Kathleen Davis said, “and why some didn’t survive.”
Family and friends of the students boarded the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad and traveled a few miles down the track to join the children at the Lewis Creek Canyon rail stop where the Wagon Train ended its journey.
Students had the opportunity to introduce their family and friends to their favorite mule, take pictures in the covered wagons they traveled on, and share stories from their four-day adventure. At the end of lunch and program, students rode the train back to the station with their family and friends to return to civilization.