Tumwater’s History Shows Oregon Trail Extended to Washington

A local historian has set out to put Tumwater on the map for national trail buffs and history buffs.

David Nicandri, a member of the Tumwater Historic Preservation Commission, presented a resolution to the group on April 21 recommending that city council add the Cowlitz Trail segment of the Oregon Trail to the National Historic Trails system.

The recommendation would need to be passed by the city council, which would then pass it to the state legislature and then travel to Congress for final approval.

Nicandri said the effort to get the trail recognized has been going on for a few years now, led by the Oregon-California Trails Association. He is now in his last term on the commission and he thought it was time to push some projects forward.

He said the corridor that encompasses the trail has several levels of significance that are worth recognizing.

“It’s kind of a fulfillment of a long-standing interest in getting proper trail recognition here in Washington state,” he said.

Nicandri said there has always been a battle between Oregon and Washington over the trail system and where the Oregon and Lewis and Clark trails end.

“It’s commonly designed where the Oregon Trail begins, which was Independence, Missouri, and surrounding towns on the lower Missouri,” he said. “There’s kind of a consensus about where the trail ends, Oregon City, but we know it branched off from there.”

He said Oregon has always done a better job of publicizing and promoting the history of its trail systems, casting a shadow over Washington’s history. People didn’t really pay much attention to the north side of the Columbia River until the expansion of the transcontinental rail network.

But Tumwater was the first place in Washington where Americans settled, after a group of families on the Oregon Trail found the Willamette Valley unwelcoming in 1844. Because members of the Simmons- Bush were black, they were discouraged from settling with others in Oregon, moving them to try their luck with the British at Fort Vancouver.

Nicandri said the history of racial justice and transcontinental migration should be reason enough for the Cowlitz Trail to be recognized as an alternative route to the Oregon Trail. But if that’s not enough, his story as a former Native American Travel Itinerarya historic highway and railroad should sweeten the deal.

Nicandri said the Brewery Park in Tumwater Falls, where the Cowlitz Trail ends and meets the start of Tumwater’s story, receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. He hopes the official recognition of the trail segment will kick-start other projects, such as adding signage throughout the park and in the I-5 corridor.

He said he wishes he could bring more attention to Bush Farm and Falls Park.

“If we can get the segment recognized, we can bring more public attention to it, build the interpretive infrastructure here, and farm it,” he said. “We can add to the historical aspects that the community already has.”

Nicandri said he’s learned that these projects are best approached on a step-by-step basis, and he hopes the commission’s recommendation will move things forward.

“I think it’s worth acknowledging and I’ve made my best point,” he said. “The main takeaway is to get formal acknowledgment of these things, you have to put in the effort. The resolution was just a starting block, there is more to come.

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