Out here in the West, our place on the Lewis and Clark trail is secure.
The explorers made their epic journey through in 1804-1806 and trekked back East to – where?
To St. Louis, to be sure, but also to Ohio and Indiana, Kentucky and south Virginia, Monticello and Washington, D.C., and dozens of other places.
Hard to argue that Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, wasn’t important to the expedition. And no Lewis and Clark saga is complete without the Natchez Trace in Tennessee, where Meriwether Lewis died with journals in hand.
“Why,” Jim Mallory wondered last week in Missoula, “isn’t the Lewis and Clark story told by the National Park Service from a national perspective?”
Mallory, of Lexington, Kentucky, was on the University of Montana campus for a national Lewis and Clark teachers’ seminar put on by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
Among those on the list of speakers was Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs of Helena, who has carried on the work of her late father, author and historian Stephen Ambrose.
“Undaunted Courage,” Ambrose’s seminal account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, helped inspire a generation of Lewis and Clarkies leading up to the bicentennial of a decade ago.
In late 2011, Tubbs, Mallory and a handful of others founded Lewis and Clark Trust Inc. branching off from the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation “just because we wanted to do active fundraising and pursue some other things in terms of advocating for the trail and the extension of the trail,” Tubbs said.
The trust’s objective is to tell the story and preserve the trail from coast to coast, in cooperation with the National Park Service and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
It’s not so much an extension of the trail as a completion, Mallory argued.
“If you start using ‘extend,’ somebody in Congress will say, ‘What’s it going to cost us?’ ” he said. “We don’t want (federal) money for this. We don’t need money.”
Other trail advocates aren’t so sure about that, but Mallory said he and the Lewis and Clark Trust are asking two things. One is authorization to put up more of those brown-and-white Lewis and Clark trail signs – “two boys pointing signs,” Mallory calls them – at points east of the Mississippi and Camp Dubois, Illinois.
That’s the eastern terminus of the 3,700-mile Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail established by Congress in 1978 as one of four charter members of the national trails system.
The second objective, Mallory said, is for maps of the Lewis and Clark Trail to show “a continuous red line” from sea to shining sea.
“Volunteers do all the rest of it,” he said.
That map would show a number of branches: Lewis’ 1803 route that included Philadelphia, Harpers Ferry, Pittsburgh and down the Ohio River; and his return trip east in the fall of 1806 to Louisville, the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap and up the Shenandoah Valley to D.C.
Another branch would include the route he took in 1809 before his death in Tennessee. Yet another would trace Clark’s own circuitous trip to D.C. that same year.
“It’s not like we’re asking the federal government to make a huge outlay,” Tubbs agreed. “We just want recognition that this is part of the trail and it deserves to be recognized.”
Congress has directed the National Park Service to study the idea. Mark Weekley, superintendent of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, isn’t part of the study but he’s keeping track of it.
Weekley said the draft should be out for public review by late spring or early summer of 2016. The National Park Service will gather the input and make its recommendation to Congress in three to six months, he estimated.
And the U.S. Senate and/or House, meeting in the same halls that could get their own “two boys pointing” signs, will make the ultimate decision.
Weekley is withholding judgment about Mallory’s plan.
“At this point, I’m waiting for the study like everybody else,” he said.
But Mallory is pushing ahead full steam. He has taken his case to Crawfordsville, Indiana, and Bristol, Tennessee; to Fincastle, Virginia, where William Clark married Julia Hancock; and to the offices of Congress in Washington, D.C.
And now to Missoula, where teachers from across the country last week got a notion of what he’s up to.
“Trails are operated through a series of cooperative agreements,” Mallory said. “The historic trails don’t own the dirt. We don’t want the dirt.”
It comes down to commerce, he argued.
“It’s cultural heritage tourism, and cultural heritage tourism is big money,” Mallory said. “Grandmothers and grandfathers bring in their children and grandchildren to one site and they spend $150 a day.”
Throw a night’s stay into the mix and that jumps to $350.
Tubbs believes completion of the trail back East can boost places like Montana.
“I’ve spoken to (U.S. Sen. Jon) Tester about it and I think most of our guys would be on board,” she said. “It’s basically free advertising to Montana to have a trail coming here from Harpers Ferry or Washington, D.C., places that were part of the story but weren’t factored in when the trail was established.”
Mallory said he and Tubbs see the project as something for future generations.
“We look at it from the standpoint of values and of life lessons,” he said. “For Lewis and Clark, those are very simple and straightforward. They are perseverance, shared responsibility, and collective accomplishment.
“Those three things are what made the Lewis and Clark Expedition successful, and those three values in today’s society will bring about success.”