The east-west thoroughfare that snakes along the north bank of the Columbia River in Clark County has been called many things over the years. It’s been known as Highway U.S. 830, Highway 8, the Northbank Highway and the Evergreen Highway. Today, it’s most often referred to as state Highway 14.
Yet this glorious piece of pavement that leads to and stretches through the Columbia Gorge has an equally magnificent —- yet rarely used —- official name: The Lewis and Clark Highway.
As Vancouver emphasizes its history to establish an identity, here’s one major road that could put Clark County on the map nationally —- if only people would start using its proper name.
This issue will gain even more importance in the coming years, as festivities are planned around the country to honor the 200th anniversary of the expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
Under direction of President Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark explored the Louisiana Purchase from 1804 to 1806, spending one of the last legs camping in this area: at the spot that would become Washougal, on the Columbia River waterfront in what is now Vancouver and at a point near Vancouver Lake.
The local highway along that route was named after the duo in 1955 by a vote of state legislators, with a “speedy and unanimous approval.” The name was used for about 20 years. Yet it began to fall out of favor in the early to mid-1970s and was replaced by a number: 14.
Originally, the highway designation was expected to extend along the Lewis and Clark trail, from Vancouver to St. Louis, where the trip began. Instead, the route only has been classified as the Lewis and Clark Highway from Ilwaco to Clarkston, Idaho. The legislative hope was that citizens “would take an interest in raising funds and support for the signing” of the highway, but that hasn’t happened, said Martin Plamondon II of Vancouver, a member of the Lewis and Clark Trail Committee, which promotes the highway’s true name.
He said the committee has plans to put up new signs as part of the Lewis and Clark celebration, but he isn’t sure that will be enough to get people to revert to the proper name.
“I think people are probably going to continue to call it SR14 because it’s easier,” Plamondon said. “In this day and age, people just are enamored with the easiest way. … We used to call it the Lewis and Clark Highway, and it didn’t take that much more time out of our lives.”
Plamondon said state and local officials have done just about everything they can to focus people on the name.
“Basically, the legislature took the ball and ran with it,” he said. “They gave the Lewis and Clark Highway its name and even reiterated it. … Now, it’s up to people to follow through and use it.”