CLARKSVILLE, IN (WAVE) – The Clarksville community came together in celebration Monday morning to commemorate the expansion of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail to include southern Indiana.
The expansion of the trail stretches from Pittsburgh and goes to St. Louis, where the historic trail previously began. Historians say their expedition truly began far before that, however, when Lewis and Clark met at the Falls of the Ohio and the team came together before traveling down the Ohio River toward Illinois.
Bud Clark, Captain William Clark’s great-great-great grandson was there as the trail expansion became official.
“It’s not just marking the Lewis and Clark Trial that the Eastern Legacy is about, but rather it serves as a catalyst for the communities to recognize their own local history,” Clark said.
The expansion of the Lewis and Clark Trail was made possible with the passage of Indiana's Eastern Legacy Extension Act, signed into law 60 days ago by President Trump.
At the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center where the trail extension event was held, there sits a statue of Lewis and Clark shaking hands, showing the moment their journey west from Clarksville began.
That statue wouldn't be there without Phyllis Yeager and her dedication toward the trail recognition.
“This is where Lewis and Clark shook hands, and this is where it all began,” said Phyllis Yeager, Indiana Lewis and Clark Commission board member.
She spent years ensuring that the moment in history when Lewis and Clark came together would be remembered. It’s a push she began in 1997, partnering with regional and state groups to educate them on the history of the expedition. She even traveled with a group to Montana, showing them how other communities have embraced their history in the group’s westward exploration.
For years, she worked to get the ears of political and community leaders about the need to expand the trail.
"You might say I was kind of the squeaky wheel a lot of times," Yeager said.
It’s been more than 200 years since Lewis and Clark came here for that now famous handshake. When she first moved to the area, Yeager said she was shocked to find most people had no idea about it. She’s spent time ensuring Lewis and Clark’s legacy lives on in southern Indiana, including pushing then-Gov. Pence to name the east-end bridge the Lewis and Clark Bridge.
It’s taken years to get to the point of the trail extension but Yeager said she never wanted to give up. Now, everyone in the community can appreciate this piece of local history.
"I think it sets the historic record straight for those of us who were steeped in the lore of the west," said John McNulty, a former national reenactor and living historian from Pittsburgh.
McNulty said he didn’t want to miss the moment the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail was extended 1,200 miles, all the way up to his town of Pittsburgh.
“I drove all night and got out here about an hour before daylight,” McNulty said.
Members of the expedition included members from Kentucky and a dog named Seaman, the group travelling west to explore and map previously unknown parts of the country. After years of working to recognize that legacy, the federal recognition of these explorers’ path to the Pacific Northwest is a victory for Yeager and the community.
“It’s just exciting to see the community embrace the Lewis and Clark story and to know that we’re now finally on the national historic trail,” Yeager said.
This victory with the trail extension doesn’t just belong to her, she said, but to all the people and groups who have pitched in over the years, taking up the cause to recognize the legacy of Lewis and Clark in southern Indiana.
“It’s a dream come true,” Yeager said.