STATEWIDE – A motorcycle convoy kicked off a weekend long tribute trek, known as The Summit Project.
The convoy started in Portland on Saturday, stopped in Hermon for lunch, and then traveled to Millinocket for Sunday morning’s hike. There some participants carried the memorial stones up Owl Mountain in Baxter State Park. The stones, varying in size, were engraved with the names, ranks, and birth and death years of fallen service members.
“When you feel the weight in your backpack, that is nothing compared to the weight the Gold Star families feel themselves,” said David Cote, the founder and president of the board of directors for The Summit Project. Cote started the cause five years ago, and is a veteran himself.
The stones were donated by Gold Star families. At the summit each hiker told the story of their fallen service member, keeping their memory alive.
“We recognize that every day is Memorial Day for our Gold Star families. So we want to deliver on a promise and that promise is to be able to look them in the eye and say that their loved ones are not forgotten,” said Cote.
Many of the hikers and bikers who participated this year were veterans. And some knew the person whose stone they carried.
“It’s very near and dear to my heart especially with the stone I’m carrying,” said Shayne Leavitt, “because he was a family friend and his father was my fire chief.”
“We were really good friends, we were shipmates, you know he mentored me a little bit,” said Shawn Boutaugh, another hiker and veteran. “I’m beyond honored to be carrying his stone.”
Event organizers said this weekend’s trek was a living memorial to learn about our local heroes and remember what Memorial Day is really about.
“We have to,” said Boutaugh. “We can’t let the people that have sacrificed their lives – to make our lives better – be forgotten.”
“They can continue to influence and inspire us for future generations to come,” said Cote.
The memorial stones will be given back to the Gold Star families. The hikers will also write a letter about their hike experience to those surviving family members.
To get involved with the next hike, more information can be found on The Summit Project’s website.