The federal government has recognized Pittsburgh as the starting point for the Lewis and Clark expedition.
It was America’s first great effort to explore and chart the western United States and find a navigable water route across the continent to improve and increase commerce.
The trip covered about 8,000 miles from Pittsburgh to Oregon and took nearly three years, from 1803 to 1806. President Thomas Jefferson, who commissioned the expedition, chose Meriwether Lewis to lead it. Lewis invited William Clark, a skilled river man, geographer and mapmaker, to share leadership.
The federal government in 1978 established the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail from Wood River, Ill., to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon but failed to recognize Pittsburgh as the expedition’s starting point. Historians and advocates lobbied for years to include the 1,200 miles from Pittsburgh to Wood River.
The U.S. House and Senate on Feb. 12 approved the addition under the Eastern Legacy Extension Act. President Trump is expected to sign the bill within days, according to the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.
“It’s a huge thing,” said John McNulty, 55, of Pittsburgh’s Elliott neighborhood, a Lewis and Clark re-enactor and longtime advocate for the extension. “It will open a whole new chapter of awareness for our town. To me, it feels like two or three Super Bowls thrown into one.”
Local officials said the designation would help increase regional tourism and possibly leverage federal and state grant money for cultural and historic attractions. McNulty said the designation could help generate funding for things such as the Old Stone Tavern dating from the late 1700s in Pittsburgh’s West End and development of new riverfront trails.
Brenda Applegate, executive director of the Beaver County Historical Research and Landmarks Foundation, said the region has a head start in marking the trail. The organization through grant funding has established interpretive historic markers in six spots where the expedition stopped between Pittsburgh and the Ohio state line.
She said markers are located in Elizabeth, where a 55-foot keelboat was supposedly built for the trip; Baden, the site of America’s first professional military training ground; Rochester, at the confluence of the Beaver and Ohio rivers; Fort McIntosh, in Beaver; Georgetown; and a spot known as the “Point of Beginning” at the Ohio state line, which was used as a starting point to survey the western United States.
Applegate said a seventh marker would be placed this spring in Duquesne Heights overlooking Brunot’s Island in the Ohio River.
“Finally. It’s about time,” she said after learning that Congress had approved the trail extension. “There’s a lot of people that followed the Lewis and Clark trail starting in St. Louis, and there will be people be coming to Pittsburgh to follow the trail along the Ohio River.”