By Michael Howell
The University of Montana Anthropology Department is sponsoring two grant applications to the Lewis and Clark Heritage Foundation. One grant, if successful, would help clear and install signage on the trail that the Lewis and Clark Expedition used in its descent into the Bitterroot Valley on September 4, 1805 as they made their way to Ross’s Hole where they met the Salish Indians. The second grant, if awarded, would begin the initial site investigation of the possible camp site on Coulter Creek where the expedition may have spent the night prior to its descent.
The “Descent Trail” begins on a narrow bridge of land connecting two ridgelines located above the present day Lost Trail Ski Area. According to Bitterroot Valley resident Ted Hall, who has been a major driver in the project, this is one of the places where a person may be pretty certain that they are walking in the footsteps of the original Corps of Discovery. Two other spots along the descent rail have also been identified as “in the footsteps” portions of the trail where the unique topography forced the expedition members to use those exact locations to pass over.
Access to the top of the trail is gained along Saddle Mountain Road and from there the trail descends through the Sacajawea Run in Lost Trail Ski Area to the Indian Trees Campground where the Corps, according to the journals, “halted to dine on deer.”
The $7,500 grant from the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, if awarded, would be used to pay a yet to be named project manager. Grant sponsor Keely Dixon of the U of M Anthropology Department is donating her efforts along with many, many other people and organizations. Trail engineering work is being donated by Ted Hall and Jon Turk. Scott Grasser, of Lost Trail Ski Area, is also partnering with the effort, as are the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Trapper Creek Job Corps, Bitterroot Chamber of Commerce, the Como School Historical Group and the Bitterroot Backcountry Bicyclists.
The National Smoke Jumpers Association has volunteered to do the bulk of the grunt work involved in the trail clearing work. Gary Burk, who sits on the Board of Directors, said that the board agreed at its recent meeting in Portland to place this project on the list in its Trail Project program for the coming year. For over a dozen years the organization has done trail clearing projects around the nation.
“We are old hands at it,” said Burk. “Most of us are in our seventies and it’s a good chance to get together and reminisce.” The organization takes on over 20 projects annually and brings from 200 to 300 people to the job.
The second $7,500 grant proposal would be used to investigate the potential campsite along Coulter Creek where the Corps may have spent the night of September 3, 1805 prior to their descent. The goals of the initial non-destructive site analysis will be to age map the trees in the site vicinity with coring, to carbon date some manmade features at the site, to carbon date three fire pits at the site and to initiate infrared mapping for disturbed soils at the site. A final report will include recommendations for future analysis of the site if justified by the initial findings.