Enduring Stories Dynamic Landscapes

The Lewis and Clark Expedition on National Forests and Grasslands

[graphic] A picture a rolling hillside with fall colors in all around.

Passage of the Weeks Act in 1911 marked a shift from public land disposal to the expansion of the public land
base by purchase, which established the National Forests in the east.

Eastern Forests - Nature's Renewal

What looks
"wild" today
may have
been a cleared
field or an
eroded gully
100 years ago

Wander through the rolling Appalachian foothills of the Wayne National Forest in southeastern Ohio.Walk beneath towering hickory in the Hoosier National Forest in south-central Indiana, or surprise a flock of wild turkeys in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. Gazing from the top of sandstone cliffs across beautiful wooded bluffs, you can imagine the landscape as Lewis and Clark saw it.

Captain Lewis spent 1803 gathering the men and supplies his Corps would need to survive in a land they knew to be wild and uncharted. Since it could not depend on fresh supplies or reinforcements, the expedition had to be self-sufficient and resourceful. Lewis selected experienced frontiersmen for the job, many who had learned their skills in the vast woods and waterways of what was then the western frontier—West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee.

During his service as Army paymaster, Lewis had traveled extensively through the Ohio River Valley beneath the sheltering limbs of enormous hickory, white oak, black walnut, tulip poplar and black cherry trees. If he were to revisit the same places today, he might be hard pressed to recognize the rivers and forests he saw.

[grpahic] A small picture of several men working in a field planting trees.

Image caption: Tree Planting Photo
Courtesy Library of Congress

Many Eastern forests fell to the axe by the late 1800s, removing tree cover from millions of acres. Exposed soil was lost to massive erosion. Public concern for protecting and restoring forested lands led to the creation of National Forests in the East. Much of the early work of the Forest Service focused on restoring logged and overgrazed lands.What looks “wild” today may have been a cleared field or eroded gully 100 years ago, and could have been covered by a towering forest 200 years ago.