Cowlitz Tribe Seeks Change of Name for State Park

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The Cowlitz Indian Tribe is proposing a more historically accurate name for Lewis and Clark State Park in South Lewis County.

As it turns out, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark never set foot in the area during their well-recorded expedition.

Philip Harju, vice chairman of the Cowlitz Tribe, said the tribe is petitioning the state to change the park’s name to “Cowlitz Trail State Park.” 

The Cowlitz Tribe used the trail while traveling from the Columbia River to the Olympia area. Ruts from the tribe’s wagon wheels are still visible on the trail, according to tribal leaders. 

“There is a historic portion of the trail still in the park,” Harju said. “As we pointed out to the state, Lewis and Clark were never here. We feel we would like to have them change the name.”   

Harju informed the Lewis County Commission on Monday about the tribe’s plan. The tribe has discussed the name change for years, Harju said, but just recently sent the formal request. 

“We started with the state and now we are going to engage some other people. I don’t think it is that complicated of an issue. There is a Lewis and Clark Trail State Park in Eastern Washington near the Snake River and Lewis and Clark were actually there,” Harju said. “We don’t think it is all that controversial. It’s actually more historically correct for the park.”  

Virginia Painter, a spokeswoman for the state Parks and Recreation Commission, said the state would have to complete a public process to collect input from the community, including other suggested names for the park, before any name change could occur.

The state does not have the resources right now to pursue a name change, Painter said. 

“Given where we are now with limited finances and staffing, we cannot engage a renaming processes at this time,” Painter said. “At this time we have so many other big priorities having to do with sustaining the park system. We don’t have the resources right now.”

In the meantime, Painter said, the state would be interested in adding more Cowlitz Indian Tribe history to informational materials at the park. 

Lewis and Clark State Park, separate from the Lewis and Clark Trail, opened in 1922 as a public camp for automobile tourists. Two years later, more than 10,000 people visited the park annually, according to the state. 

The park, which includes one of the last major stands of old-growth forest in the state, is located near the John R. Jackson House, the first American pioneer home built north of the Columbia River.

“(The name change) would not be a priority at this time,” Painter said. “At the same time, we recognize the Native American role in all of the places where we are and we do cooperate with the tribes on a lot of different projects.” 

The state has previously discussed changing the Lewis and Clark State Park name in 2010, Painter said, but never finalized the change. However, other park names have changed over the years. 

Recently, Fort Canby in the southwest corner of the state was renamed Cape Disappointment based off of journals written by Lewis and Clark. 

Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund, who is also an avid local historian, said people always ask where Lewis and Clark were in the county, but they were not in the county. Lewis and Clark did enter the original boundaries of Lewis County, formed when the state was a territory and comprised of what is 14 counties today, Fund said. 

“Lewis County used to be a big county,” Fund said. “Yes, Lewis and Clark were in original Lewis County, but not in the present Lewis County.”  

Fund said she supports the historical accuracy of the proposed name change and will wait and see if the state pursues it at a later time. 

“I’d like things to be historically accurate and if we have to correct things to be historically accurate, so be it,” Fund said. 

Painter suspects the 621-acre park was named after Lewis and Clark based off of the fact that Lewis County is loosely named after  Meriwether Lewis. No official reason for the name has been recorded by the state. 

Harju said the tribe wants to hold public meetings to address any opposition to the name change. 

“We have no disrespect for Lewis and Clark,” Harju said. “It is history for the county that Jackson Highway was originally a part of the Cowlitz corridor.”

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