The National Park Service has been studying proposals to extend the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail east from St. Louis and wants to know what the public thinks.
Yes, they mean EAST.
Of course, we in St. Louis know that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark headed WEST from these parts in May 1804 to explore President Thomas Jefferson’s new hunk of real estate, the Louisiana Purchase.
The NPS isn’t attempting to alter the current trail, as it was designated in the late 1970s. That trail, which is 3,700 miles long, starts up river in Wood River, Illinois, at Camp Dubois, where the Corps of Discovery wintered before setting off on the Missouri River in May 1804. The trail passes through 11 states, following the Missouri River system to the Rockies and then the Columbia River system to the West Coast.
This project looks at whether the trail and its accompanying story line should be expanded eastward to include sites that the explorers visited before and after the expedition, according to Tokey Boswell of the Midwest Regional Office of the NPS.
“We recognize that Lewis and Clark did not just materialize in thin air in Wood River or St. Louis,’’ Boswell said. “They had to do quite a bit to get ready for the expedition and then after they came back to St. Louis there were quite a few follow-up activities until the expedition was officially complete. We’re evaluating whether some of those activities and those routes should also be included as part of the officially designated trail.’’
The NPS has been working with local and community historians who helped define the eastern sites with a significant connection to the expedition.
The research phase has taken about seven years, and the NPS is inviting the public to look over its shoulder before it submits its final report to Congress. To read the draft report — it’s long with lots of details that will fascinate history buffs— go to the study’s website. Comments can be made online until Sept. 30.
“We’re asking for the public to go ahead and look over that study and tell us if they think we got it right or if there’s extra information or omissions that need to be corrected before we finalize it and send it to Congress,’’ Boswell said.
Local constituencies lobbied Congress for the study because they are proud of the role they played in the historic expedition, he said.
“There are communities in the proposed extension routes and along the Ohio River that feel a strong connection: Pittsburgh where they launched the boat; Louisville where Louis and Clark came together for the first time,’’ he said.
But even aficionados of Lewis and Clark history disagree on whether extending the trail is necessary, Boswell noted.
“We’d like to hear from more people about whether they think the trail should be extended. Whether it should be managed under the auspices of the NPS. Whether it should be locally- or state-designated and administered. So we’re looking for people to provide their feedback on that,’’ he said.
The NPS plans to present its recommendation to Congress by the end of the year.
Corps returned to St. Louis 110 years ago
The study comes on the 110th anniversary of the return of the Corps of Discovery to St. Louis from their western journey.
Here’s a snippet from the diary of Sergeant Ordway, a Corps member, who described the events of Sept. 23, 1806:
“About 12 oClock we arrived in Site of St. Louis, fired three Rounds as we approached the Town and landed oppocit the center of the Town, the people gathered on the Shore and Hizzared three cheers. We unloaded the canoes and carried the baggage all up to a store house in Town. Drew out the canoes then the party all considerable much rejoiced that we have the Expedition Completed and now we look for boarding in Town and wait for our Settlement and then we entend to return to our native homes to See our parents once more as we have been so long from them.”
Lewis immediately sent a letter to Jefferson with the disappointing news: They had not found an all-water route to the Pacific Ocean. He also noted that the Rockies were no mere “height of land.” (Translation: They were HUGE.) But the good news was that the mountains could be crossed in the summertime — and that the Missouri River was navigable, and so was much of the Columbia River.