The Virginia Lewis & Clark Legacy Trail project began ten years ago in 2010 when the National Park Service (NPS) approached Botetourt County, Virginia about becoming involved in a NPS Eastern Legacy Special Resource Study. The purpose of the study was to determine the
“feasibility and suitability” for expanding the westward Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail to the eastern part of the United States where both explorers had personal and business ties and traveled both before and after the Expedition.
During the next five years, the NPS surveyed potential eastern trails, and discovered there were twenty-four eastern trail segments, including six in Virginia. From a feasibility and suitability perspective, the National Park Service decided in 2015 not to include all identified eastern segments. Rather, they chose the water route from the Missouri/Mississippi Rivers’ confluence, north to and from Pittsburgh where the explorers had also traveled pre- and post- Expedition.
The Virginia committee, (known at that time as the Virginia Great Valley Lewis & Clark Eastern Legacy Trail) decided to continue its pursuit of developing and implementing a Virginia trail. Soliciting the help of Del. Terry Austin and forty-nine other legislators along the trail, it received Virginia legislative recognition via House Joint # 566 in February 2015. The initial focus of trail development had been a regional approach suggested by both the National Park Service and the Lewis & Clark Trust, Inc. At that time, involved counties included Botetourt, Rockbridge, Augusta and Albemarle.
From February 2015 to August 2020, trail development and implementation occurred along the Great Valley Road segment, the longest of Virginia’s six trail segments, and was carried out by a grassroots level, all volunteer corps. Trail organization and subsequent participation was expanded from the original four counties to eleven counties plus five independent cities, including King and Queen County in eastern Virginia that has documented ties to Meriwether Lewis. Each locality has a Chair or a Contact, and some have created committees to oversee trail growth and activities in their communities. In late summer 2020, the Virginia Lewis & Clark Legacy Trail applied for and became a 501, tax-exempt organization.
Since August, the trail project has rapidly moved forward with the help of a 13- member Board of Directors. A Friends Fund Drive is being conducted through March 2021, four additional Lewis & Clark-connected historic sites have applied and been approved as designated Virginia Lewis & Clark Legacy Trail sites, and board sub-committees are working on an interpretive sign project, a Lewis & Clark historic sites’ visitor access program, website formation, and publicity/marketing opportunities.