Digital Platform Promotes & Connects Communities along the Lewis & Clark Trail through Geotourism

Author: Ryan Parsons, Lewis and Clark Travel

People enjoying Lewis Lookout near Dillon, Montana on the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

If you were tasked with promoting thousands of destinations and individual businesses along a 4,900-mile, 16-state stretch of land  – how would you do it? 

It’s a daunting and seemingly impossible task, but leaders at the National Park Service (NPS), Solimar International, and the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) have a solution: the travel-friendly, tech-advanced Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (LCNHT) Experience.

In collaboration with public and private stakeholders along with Native American communities, was born: an interactive trip planning website to link the communities and experiences along the route of Lewis and Clark’s 1803-1806 expedition. This geotourism project allows accommodations, restaurants, visitor information centers, parks, boutiques, museums, scenic vistas, and more to become stewards of the trail through an engaging and interactive web platform. Additionally, it helps potential visitors plan meaningful trips connected to history and local communities from Pittsburgh to Oregon’s Pacific Coast. 

The newly launched website was created through a geotourism stewardship program overseen by the NPS brings together tourism partners at local, state, and national levels along the trail to showcase what makes their destinations a great place to visit. The website allows searching for a variety of experiences and locations from unique local history museums to a scenic riverfront sunset. Whether traveling the entire length of the Trail or taking a short day trip, the travel experience can be greatly enhanced by the possibilities highlighted on the website.

As a trail without physical markers, local communities are the lifeblood of the LCNHT Experience. These communities have an incredible opportunity for free exposure and a boost in tourism by partnering with the program. Communities can list themselves on the website, place Lewis and Clark autoroute signs, and get involved in community enhancement programs.

As more partners join the LCNHT Experience, the site continues to grow with information on local hotels, campsites, and tourism boards, which continue to foster visitation along the trail. People who are interested in the Lewis and Clark expedition or want to learn more about American and Native American history are textbook fans of the trail, but the geotourism program pushes the trail’s reach even further. This “next frontier” is to connect with the everyday traveler; someone who might just be passing through a town along the trail. 

The LCNHT Experience engages communities along the trail as “stewards” of its mission. Communities are buying into tenets of the trail like resource preservation, public enjoyment, recreation, and historic significance. This trail is for everyone – families hoping to teach their kids about history, outdoorsy couples looking for the best hikes, avid brewery visitors, and more. The ultimate goal is to encourage all travelers to have a great appreciation for the places along the trail, reinforcing the second arm of the NPS mission: to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout the United States and the greater world.

In line with LCNHT’s mission to commemorate the Lewis and Clark Expedition through the identification, protection, interpretation, public use and enjoyment, and preservation of historic, cultural, and natural resources along the trail, this project exemplifies the geotourism approach. To create partnerships through geotourism and, the trail needs to create value for all stakeholders along the trail. The value arises from community promotion and association with the NPS, as well as being a part of a bigger, common goal of sustainability.

What Is Geotourism?

Geotourism is a forward thinking approach to tourism that aims to enhance communities in a sustainable way by giving them the tools to define what is special and unique about their homes. Geotourism is tourism that sustains or enhances the geographic character of a place, its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the wellbeing of its residents. It encompasses a range of travel experiences including culture and heritage, history, food, nature, adventure, the outdoors, water, music, and arts. Ultimately, geotourism is about the preservation of the essence of a place, accomplished by uplifting and listening to the people who live in the tourist locales.