By Matt de Simone
Peggy Crosson of Fincastle recently made a presentation to the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors about the eastern extension of the Lewis & Clark Legacy Trail into the county.
Crosson is a former executive Director of Historic Fincastle Inc. and spent many years as Director of Patient Services and Volunteers for Carilion in Roanoke. She is the president of the Virginia Lewis & Clark Legacy Trail (VLCLT) project. For over 10 years, Crosson, along with co-chairs of the Legacy Trail Initiative, Kip and Lyn Burton, as well as a number of individuals continue working together to bring the trail through Botetourt County.
The initiative is made up of 12 counties and three cities, including Botetourt County. The original Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail was approved by Congress in 1978 and travels through 10 states from Missouri to Oregon.
In 2008, Congress authorized the National Park Service (NPS) to determine whether or not there should be an eastern extension to the trail. There was increase in public interest of Meriwether Lewis’s and William Clark’s life stories. According to Crosson, publications like Undaunted Courage and expedition journals generated public interest in the explorers.
Another reason Congress looked into the expansion was based on the economic impact of the western trail on American tourism. In 2007, while preparing for the study, NPS discovered a significant number of routes and historical sites related to the explorers in Virginia.
In 2012 and 2014, NPS traveled to Virginia facilitating two workshops that made it clear that Virginia had a lot to offer in terms of the extension (localities, tourism).
During her presentation to the board, Crosson showed a map developed by NPS that included the Town of Fincastle as a “place of interest” along the areas that the expansion would cover.
Soon after Crosson’s tenure as HFI’s executive director concluded, she was contacted by Botetourt County’s tourism department about participating in NPS’s study regarding trail expansion.
The county submitted the pertinent historical data to the state in order to attend a meeting in Charlottesville. Soon after, Crosson, along with the then-county tourism manager, and Weldon Martin, found themselves traveling to the meeting. Crosson learned of other localities claiming their “place” in the study based on what was known about Lewis & Clark’s meetings with Thomas Jefferson.
As the meeting wound down, it was Crosson’s turn to speak on behalf of Fincastle and Botetourt County. Crosson mentioned she was “nudged” by her cohorts to speak. She walked in front of the meeting’s attendees and opened by stating she represented Fincastle.
“Here’s the magic that night for Botetourt County,” Crosson said. “The entire front row started clapping. I was flabbergasted.”
That little “point of interest” on NPS’s map of potential trail markers in Virginia finally found a face that represented Fincastle that night 10 years ago.
Kip and Lyn Burton then shared some of the specific historical facts to the board about Lewis & Clark and their time spent in Botetourt County prior to and following their expedition. Many documents published over the years have revealed the explorers’ connection to the area, including Chronicles of Botetourt County: Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of Botetourt County written by Ed McCoy, former editor of The Fincastle Herald.
Crosson then revealed that NPS’s research found that Virginia had six of the 24 verified trail segments of the eastern expansion. However, in 2015, it seemed to be too costly and time-consuming to expand the trail into Virginia.
That year, Del. Terry Austin led an effort to get a resolution signed by 50 legislators that designated the portion of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail that runs through the commonwealth as the Lewis & Clark Eastern Legacy Trail. It also spoke to the economic development potential of the trail on heritage tourism.
In 2020, the four active counties within the trail expanded to 12.
“We got there because of the grassroots-level hard work and support of the many volunteers in the communities that wanted this trail,” Crosson added during the presentation.
Crosson then showed an updated map of the participating counties today and counties that recently discovered their connections to the trail.
“We have moved a lot faster since we became a 501(c)(3) in August of 2020,” Crosson said in a recent interview. “The board of directors are extremely committed, extremely skillful, and hard workers. With their help, the whole team has been able to push the trail forward towards developing and organizing counties and their participation, identifying historic sites, and having them researched and confirmed as Lewis & Clark historic sites.
“We were able to develop a website, place the sites and trail on the website, and are now ready to support that effort with signage along the trail and at those sites. We anticipate that between now and July of 2024, we will need a minimum of 24 signs for the trail, routes, and historic sites along those routes.
“Grassroots-level volunteerism cannot be beat,” Crosson added. “When you push the decision-making to grassroots-level volunteers who are in the trenches doing the work—you make good decisions. In other words, governing from the bottom up than from the top down. Not only are you in an environment where you make good decisions, you also have the opportunity to lay a very strong foundation for a 501(c)(3) and a particular project.”
Crosson is thankful for the work done by co-chairs Kip and Lyn Burton, website designer Mike Bramlett, and all of the volunteers who worked so hard on the initiative and continuing efforts of the organization.
All of the maps Crosson provided in her presentation to the board, including additional information about the eastern expansion can be found on the Lewis & Clark Legacy Trail’s website: https://valewisandclarklegacytrail.org/.