Chuck & Penny Raddon:
Conserving Memories of the Lewis & Clark Expedition
DURING THE GLOBAL financial downturn, Chuck and Penny Raddon (‘66, Forestry and ‘66, Social Sciences) realized that the only way to save a portion of a trail made famous by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark was to save it themselves.
The Raddons have been leading volunteers into Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains ever since, working for days to conserve part of the historic route.
“That’s what really pushed us into setting up the volunteer program. If someone doesn’t step up and do something, we’ll lose the trail. To me, it’s something that’s part of our history and it’s important,” says Chuck.
For their efforts, they were given the Trail Stewardship Award by the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, which promotes cultural awareness, protection of sacred sites, and preservation of the natural and historical resources along the trail.
The Raddons have been involved with the trail since Chuck’s career with the U.S. Forest Service took him to Idaho in 1988, but it took a global financial downturn for the couple to see that volunteerism was the only way to keep the trail in good condition.
Every August the Raddons lead the Lolo Work Week, a group of about 25 volunteers who scramble their way into No-See-Um Meadow, and then spend several days making work sallies 50 miles to the Lolo Pass trail. Sometimes the work includes replacing signs, repairing the trail, or identifying projects that will be tackled in the future. It’s hard work, but everyone agrees it’s rewarding.
Owing to his background in the Forest Service and his knack for logistics, Chuck said it was a natural step to organize a backcountry work party. Penny would manage food supplies, while Chuck organized the volunteers. People have lots of fun, too. In fact, Chuck said it’s hard to find any archival photos of people working during the workweek because so often people were having a good time.
For Chuck, professional obligations brought him to be involved with the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but his interest in their trip grew over time. He became fascinated by the psychology of the expedition’s men, contrasting their mindset with modern day travelers. “If you’re driving down a desert road and you see a sign ‘next gas station 150 miles’ you look at your gas gauge and ask ‘can I make it or not?’ Back then, it was a different psychology, a different way of thinking. They were so independent and self-sustained.”
One important aspect of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that Chuck likes to point out is that the two U.S. Army officers weren’t discovering anything new. “They knew where the mouth of the Columbia was. What they didn’t know is what is present-day Idaho, western Montana and the Columbia Basin,” Chuck told Idaho Public Television in a 2001 broadcast. Essentially what they “discovered” was well-trodden ground used by many Native American tribes, particularly the Nez Perce.