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The George Rogers Clark Cabin in Clarksville is an important piece of the Lewis and Clark expedition, where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark stayed prior to pushing of from the mouth of Mill Creek to start the Corps of Discovery. 

CLARKSVILLE — A Southern Indiana site has been chosen as the place for a national ceremony next month dedicating a 1,200-mile expansion of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

On May 13 at 10 a.m., national, state and local leaders and residents will gather at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center to officially recognize the expansion of the trail Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and the Corps of Discovery blazed at the start of the 19th century, exploring the western United States.

While the ceremony details are not finalized, the list of speakers is expected to include Clark's great-great-great-grandson, Bud Clark.

The expansion, brought about by legislation led by U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., is one of more than 100 pieces of legislation that make up the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation Management and Recreation Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 12.

The expanded recognition, which local, state and national leaders have been pursuing for nearly two decades, includes areas in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and new portions of trail in in Illinois and Missouri. The total trail spans more than 4,900 miles.

Jim Keith, chair of the Indiana Lewis and Clark Expedition, said he's "absolutely thrilled. It's been a long time coming."

The designation includes permitting new signage to educate visitors on the historic importance of the area.

"It allows us to tell the untold story," Keith said.

Though the two-year expedition is known to have officially started in 1804 near St. Louis, it was the previous year when Lewis and Clark actually met in Clarksville, staying at Clark's brother George Rogers Clark's homestead.

"This is the first place the two explorers were together, [where] they pushed off from the mouth of Mill Creek," said Clarksville Town Council member John Gilkey. "And we'd like to think this is where the expedition started."

"Lewis came down the Ohio River, met up with Clark at the Clark cabin and they recruited what is known as the nine young men of Kentucky who made the nucleus of the Corps of Discovery."

Gilkey and others say the announcement not only gives due recognition to the birth of the journey, but will provide a new avenue for locals and tourists alike to learn more about the area.

"I think it will open up new markets for us to showcase our area, and people can come and learn about the extended history," said Luanne Mattson, assistant director at SoIN Tourism. "Heritage is something that people are interested in because it adds more depth to a destination. The discovery of that makes a place more interesting."

Keith said work started on getting the designation in the early 2000s, and has taken the support of multiple successive congressional leaders chipping away to make it happen — Young, U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., and before them former Congress members Baron Hill and Mike Sodrel.

Sodrel held the first public hearing to extend the trail, and in 2010, the National Parks Service did a feasibility study into the expansion.

So [in] 2019, after many starts, the bill was passed," Keith said. "I can't remember a case where we hit opposition, [and] it's never been particularly partisan.

"It just takes some time to get through the process."

Clarksville Town Council President Paul Fetter agreed it's taken years of legwork from former leaders to make it happen, and that those who pushed it through were bringing it to the finish line. He said he's happy to see Clarksville getting recognition for being a crucial part of the expedition.

"I'm extremely proud to have seen that happen," he said.

Aprile Rickert is the crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at aprile.rickert@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2115. Follow her on Twitter: @Aperoll27.