Lewis and Clark trail could boost tourism

PART OF HISTORY — Chris Seek, a sustainable tourism consultant to the National Park Service, encouraged community leaders Tuesday to take advantage of being part a Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail community. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — A National Park Service consultant encouraged local tourism leaders Tuesday to work together to make the most of their newfound status as a Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail community.

Meriwether Lewis, tasked by President Thomas Jefferson with surveying the Louisiana Territory from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, had spent several days in the Steubenville area in 1803 en route to St. Louis, where he was to meet up with William Clark.

It wasn’t until March, when Congress passed the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, that the trail, part of the park service, was extended to include the 1,200-mile route Lewis followed from Pittsburgh to St. Louis. With the addition, the trail now passes through 16 states and is 4,900 miles long.

Consultant Chris Seek, president of Solimar International, said the park service sees the trail designation as an economic catalyst.

“One of the things that’s happening now is cultural travel, experience travel,” Seek said. “People want to learn, they want to have experiences, they want to meet people — the destination’s story becomes the attraction.”

Park service officials have put together a website (lewisandclark.travel), featuring an interactive online map, to promote things to do in each of the trail communities, including family and locally owned businesses; events, ceremonies and festivals; heritage sites, museums, theaters; studios and galleries, craft workshops or shops featuring handmade items; curators of outdoor experiences, such as rafting, hiking, biking and hunting; historic places; scenic routes like hiking/biking trails, waterways, birding trails; and local artisans, storytellers, outdoor guides or historians. There’s also a number of free partnership programs for destinations and businesses alike.

The idea, Seek said, is for locals to get together and decide what activities and events they want to promote.

“Every place has a story to tell,” he said. “We’re using the story of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail as a way to bring communities together to highlight what makes their community special. It works so much better when people come together and ask why … why is our place special? Why is our place unique? Sometimes people don’t realize it is. Once people understand their community’s significance, the more community support and the more officials support (working together) to ensure their resources are protected.”

Judy Bratten, executive director of Historic Fort Steuben and the Steubenville Visitors Center, pointed out that during the last 10 or 15 years, “a lot of people stopped here on their way to St. Louis to do the Lewis and Clark Trail.”

“Now they have a reason to start in Pittsburgh or even here,” Bratten said. “There’s a lot of interest in the trail.”

Bratten also said they’d “had a lot of enthusiasm” when they celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

“People still talk about it,” she said. “It would be neat to recreate.”

Mayor Jerry Barilla, president of Historic Fort Steuben, recalled a keelboat stopping in Steubenville as part of that celebration.

“It was a great tribute to Lewis and Clark, and also to Steubenville,” Barilla said, adding it was “an honor to be part of the National Park Service. It elevates us to another level.”

Bratten agreed, calling it a “wonderful opportunity,” and said she’s already reached out to the National Scenic Byways to get that group involved.

“Our job is to let everybody else get excited and get involved,” she added.

Seek encouraged the group — which included Bonnie Burskey from the Top of West Virginia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau; Robert Bailey, a local history buff; Kevin Bower and his wife, Diane, representing the Daughters of the American Revolution — to spread the word and figure out ways they can work together, even across state lines.,

“At the end of the day, we want it to be a tool for the community,” Seek said. “It’s designed to go from the bottom up, a grassroots project to get the community to come together.”