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4 Ways Tourism Helps Small Communities on the LCNHT

It’s no secret: The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (LCNHT) does not run through America’s most well-known tourist attractions. New York, Los Angeles, and Miami are not on the trail. But the LCNHT is pointing tourists to the corners of America that make our great country extend from sea to sea. These small communities can be a window into how America began and a crystal ball hinting at where it may go. Without them– and without tourists supporting the small businesses that fuel them– a key part of the American dream, story, and future are in danger.

How does tourism help? Here are 4 ways that touring the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail supports the small businesses fueling our country.

Lewis and Clark Trail Communities

Way 1: Economic Change

Money is probably the most visible way tourism supports the communities along the LCNHT. However, that doesn’t mean it is a simple transaction.

Many communities on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail offer locally owned hotels, restaurants, and shops. By supporting these smaller businesses, you would be directly supporting the town– especially Mom and Pop shops and other small-town American businesses. In other words, instead of your money going to support chain businesses and large corporations, your money would support the unique identities of the small communities that make America diverse and strong. 

What’s more, when tourists spend money at these businesses, companies employ more people to meet the demands of the tourists. Since tourism involves various types of industries like hospitality, recreation, and health care, tourism provides the economic incentive to strengthen America’s smaller communities and draw more people to live and work there.

Tourism demand can also create new markets. More tourism dollars in the communities might motivate residents to open up new businesses that can benefit visitors and tourists. For example, tourism investment has supported conservation efforts and museum construction near the Weldon Spring Lewis and Clark Hiking Trail in St. Charles, Missouri. With added tourism in recent years, the surrounding community has invested more in parks and recreational facilities that will benefit everyone– tourists and residents alike.

Visiting smaller communities supports local residents and communities by directly investing in the attractions that make their towns unique, the workforce that powers them, and new markets that can benefit everyone. So, if you travel along the trail and you are interested in supporting such businesses, consider researching the attractions along the trail that you have not seen before– like the Mountain Spirit Inn in Darby, Montana, the Running Dogs Brewery in St. Helens, Oregon, or the Duke Bakery in Alton, Illinois– so that you can make a difference in the lives of residents and future tourists just by spending money.

Lewis and Clark Trail Communities

Way 2: Improving Infrastructure

As a result of the financial benefits of tourism, these smaller communities have an incentive to improve the critical systems that allow them to function: infrastructure. The towns along the trail know that tourists would not be as likely to spend money if they do not have access to the internet or air conditioning. Communities can apply the tourism funds they receive to improving their infrastructure like electric grids and sanitation in the hopes of attracting more tourists and their money.

As their surrounding infrastructure advances, local residents can become safer and benefit from faster transportation systems, cleaner water, and more efficient waste removal. That’s right: another win-win for tourism and communities!

Way 3: Strengthening Identity

Tourism can also bolster a place’s individuality and save dying communities. Tourists can have diverse goals in visiting particular places– whether it’s to find a new food, thrill, or just enjoy the great outdoors. In choosing a place to visit, tourists analyze a location’s particularlities and support the aspects that align with what they wanted to experience on their trip. The communities then become aware of why tourists choose to visit them and expand access to that tourist attraction. Through these decisions, communities and tourists shape the identities of the place, celebrating their history, traditions, or geographic characteristics. They therefore find out what can be done to gain more visitors or increase the tourist experience.

This evolving identity can also improve the residents’ living experience. To attract more visitors, communities may create events, open or renovate museums, and establish new parks. These new attractions would be equally accessible to tourists and residents, offering powerful visible examples of the progressive impacts of tourism to community members. Even though their surroundings could be changing under the pressure of tourism, residents still experience exciting new changes that ultimately improve their quality of life and present them with more opportunities because of tourism dollars.

If done right, tourism may also preserve dying cultures. Fort Pierre in South Dakota is a community that is embracing its history and traditions by opening various museums and hosting events that showcase the traditions of the Native Americans living there. Tourism therefore helps preserve Native American traditions, such as ​​​​pow wows for new generations to learn from and appreciate.

Lewis and Clark Trail Communities

Way 4: Deepening National and International Relationships

You have heard that traveling to a new place generally changes a visitor’s perception for the better. They start to see through the stereotypes to find that the pictures and others’ opinions cannot capture the majesty and individuality of the place and people they encounter.

This notion also applies to the residents’ perceptions about tourists if the tourists are respecting their values. Some communities along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail have fewer or less developed connections to the rest of the nations, other nationalities, and cultures. The residents could benefit from meeting people of different backgrounds because they could learn about new places, peoples, and cultures. As a result, the residents could become inspired to travel and continue learning about the world, deepening the connections between Americans and with the world. Ultimately, tourism reminds both the visitors and visited that there is always more to discover, yet we truly live in a small world after all.

Lewis and Clark Trail Communities


Tourism, if it respects and works with communities, offers enormous benefits for visitors and residents alike. So, if you decide to travel to communities, remember to be conscious about your actions and respect the values and traditions of these hidden gems along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. 

Are you interested in learning about the communities and attractions along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail? Head to lewisandclark.travel to find out more.

Written by Constantin Luft and Josh Sulkin

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