Retired SR teacher helped extend Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail
Jared Rogers photo
In 1803, Meriwether Lewis began a journey at the request of then President of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson, to explore the land which made up the bulk of the recent Louisiana Purchase. After having his boat built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Lewis sailed the Ohio River down to Falls of the Ohio, where he met with William Clark, younger brother of the renowned George Rogers Clark. From there, historians say the expedition began in earnest as the two leaders and their crew made their way through St. Louis, north through present day Bismarck, and west to the coast of present day Oregon.
Lewis spent six weeks in Pittsburgh while his boat was built. Although he was an avid outdoorsman and decorated military veteran, one might wonder if he still felt some pre-trip jitters. Would the expedition succeed? Would Lewis and his crew make a mark on history?
About two years ago, longtime Versailles resident and retired teacher Jerry Wilson began a journey at the request of Clarksville, Indiana’s Lewis and Clark Foundation and Commission. He traveled to Washington D.C. to encourage lawmakers to extend the currently recognized Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail to include the parts of the route east of St. Louis, all the way to Pittsburgh. Like Lewis, Wilson couldn’t have known for sure what the outcome of his journey would be before he embarked upon it. Like Lewis, Wilson found the courage to try his best anyway. Like Lewis, Wilson was eventually successful in his endeavor.
At D.C.’s annual Hike the Hill event, which seeks to advocate for the development and preservation of America’s great recreational trails, Wilson brought it to the attention of then Indiana Congressman Luke Messer that Indiana was the only state in the union not to have a national scenic or historic trail. The extension of the Lewis and Clark trail could simply fix two issues: the establishment of the full trail undertaken by the explorers, and the establishment of a true scenic trail that included Indiana.
Representative Messer brought a bill to the floor of the House of Representatives regarding the issue, which was co-sponsored by then Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly. The bill stalled for that session, but was renewed by current U.S. Representative from Indiana Todd Young this session. This year it passed into law, and an additional 1,200 miles of trail now extend from St. Louis to Pittsburgh.
Wilson shared that the energy towards a trail extension had been building since bicentennial celebrations of the expedition back in 2003-2006, which were organized by the national group, the Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail Foundation. “The bicentennial came about and more people got involved,” he remembered.
In addition to recreating the historical route in full, extending the official Lewis and Clark trail will help preserve the natural resources surrounding the trail and offer increased tourism opportunities for the states added. As a National Scenic Trail, the National Park Service will look to place additional signage and work with local groups to develop outdoor activities along the trail. Outdoor developments could pertain to walking or biking paths, small parks, or interpretive resources which invite people to enjoy the trail and its surrounding areas.
To commemorate the new portion of the trail, an official designation ceremony will be conducted by the National Park Service in Clarksville on May 13. Along with many who share interest in the Lewis and Clark expedition, Wilson is excited for the extension to become official, and for the opportunities ahead. With the trail and its story preserved, the expedition can continue to inspire others to venture into the unknown and leave their own mark on history.