The Park Service is using economic stimulus funds to make extensive, long-overdue improvements to the Meriwether Lewis Park (aka Meriwether Lewis Historic Site), a component of Natchez Trace Parkway.
Famed explorer Meriwether Lewis, then Governor of Upper Louisiana Territory, died of gunshot wounds while overnighting at Grinder’s Stand, a crude cabin inn along the old Natchez Trail near Hohenwald, Tennessee. Although Lewis’ death was ruled a suicide, many people believe that he may have been murdered. Lewis’ descendants are pressing for further investigation, including an exhumation and re-examination of the remains. The Park Service has thus far steadfastly refused, citing the agency’s mandate to preserve historic resources in its care.
The Park Service is a key player in this drama because the agency is the custodian of Meriwether Lewis Park, a component of Natchez Trace Parkway. The historic site honoring Lewis was proclaimed Meriwether Lewis National Monument in 1925, transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service in 1933, and added to the Natchez Trace Parkway on August 10, 1961. This parkway component is now dubbed the Meriwether Lewis Site, though it is still commonly known as Meriwether Lewis Park or Meriwether Lewis Park and Monument.
Today the site occupies a 900-acre tract that contains Lewis’ grave, a monument that the State of Tennessee erected in 1848, a “reasonable facsimile” of the Grinder’s Stand tavern/inn that the CCC built in the 1930s, and other visitor use facilities, including restrooms, a picnic area, hiking trails, and a beautifully wooded no-fee campground with 31 no-hookup sites.
Over the decades, the park’s visitor use facilities and infrastructure, including the Grinder’s Stand replica, became badly deteriorated due to wear and the elements. The backlog of too-long deferred maintenance, repairs, and upgrades added up to millions of dollars that the parkway just didn’t have.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to the rescue! The Park Service was recently able to dip into the ARRA economic stimulus well and come out with $3.2 million for the Meriwether Lewis Park upgrade. That kind of money will fund some pretty extensive improvements. In addition to renovating the interpretive cabin and providing universal access to visitor facilities, the project will modernize utility systems, improve roads and parking, and create new interpretive exhibits.
According to a Natchez Trace Parkway press release, some of the preliminary work has already been completed "with full project work beginning by spring of 2010."