One of the most evocative of the country's many Lewis and Clark historic sites is tucked away in the dank woods of northwest Oregon: the Fort Clatsop National Memorial. The two rows of...
One of the most evocative of the country’s many Lewis and Clark historic sites is tucked away in the dank woods of northwest Oregon: the Fort Clatsop National Memorial.
The two rows of small log buildings a sort of mini stockade with a tiny parade ground in the middle is a reconstruction of the shelter the explorers built when they wintered in 1805-06 about five miles from present-day Astoria, Ore.
Fort Clatsop was the turn-around point of the epic and successful 33-member Corps of Discovery voyage to find a river route across the American West to the Pacific Ocean.
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Entering the fort’s drafty, dark cabins, today’s visitors can imagine the daily life of expedition members 200 years ago struggling to keep fires burning in the relentless rain; bartering with local Indians; and captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark hunching over rough-hewn tables writing their now-famous journals.
Fort Clatsop is only 50 feet long on each side. But the National Park Service, which administers the fort and its visitor center, is getting ready for an influx of visitors as part of the national celebration of the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s journey.
Other parks and communities on both sides of the lower Columbia River in Washington and Oregon also are preparing for a surge of visitors with special events, improved museums and visitor centers, and more starting this spring.
At Fort Clatsop, a 5 percent to 10 percent increase from last year’s 256,000 visitors is expected this year, said superintendent Chip Jenkins. To manage the crowds, Fort Clatsop has some new rules.
Entry will be by timed ticket only from June 14 through Sept. 6, and tickets must be bought in advance through the National Park Service or at local communities’ visitor centers and some hotels and campgrounds in the area.
“We’re not trying to limit people, we’re just trying to manage the time when people arrive since the fort is such a small structure,” said Jenkins. “And you’re welcome to stay as long as you want.”
For the same summer period, Fort Clatsop’s small lot next to the park visitor center will be closed to private vehicles. Visitors must come by park shuttle bus from a new satellite parking lot, called Netul Landing, a mile away.
Lewis and Clark fans are being encouraged to abandon their cars altogether this summer in the lower Columbia region, since the narrow coastal roads of southwest Washington and northwest Oregon get congested. Instead of driving, visitors can use a new bus service, the Explorer Shuttle, that will travel between Long Beach, Wash., and Cannon Beach, Ore., with stops at Fort Clatsop as well as at motels and campgrounds.
The $5 Fort Clatsop entry ticket also serves as a three-day pass for the Lewis and Clark shuttle: “It’s a screaming deal,” said Jenkins.
If you want to ride a train into history, the Lewis and Clark Explorer Train will resume for a second year, from around Memorial Day to Labor Day. It will make one round trip a day from Linnton in northwest Portland to Astoria.
Events along the coast
Along with new ways to get around, there’s a bevy of Lewis and Clark events planned on the Washington and Oregon coasts for this spring, summer and beyond. Among them:
Cape Disappointment State Park (formerly Fort Canby State Park): The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in the 1,800-acre park at Washington’s southwest tip reopened last month after a major renovation. The museum, on an oceanfront bluff near the mouth of the Columbia, focuses on the explorers’ stay in the area and the native culture. The name change takes the park back to the original name for the area, bestowed by an 18th-century British seagoing explorer; Lewis and Clark knew it as Cape Disappointment.
Lewis and Clark stamp day: On May 14, the U.S. Postal Service will issue three new bicentennial stamps honoring Lewis and Clark (who left St. Louis, bound for the Pacific, on May 14, 1804).
One site in each of the 11 states along Lewis and Clark’s route has been selected for a first-day issuance Fort Clatsop in Oregon, and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment in Washington. There will be ceremonies, dignitaries and postal workers selling and canceling the 37 cent stamp.
Long Beach peninsula communities will host Lewis and Clark themed activities on the weekend, including lectures and tours.
“Living-history” camp: If you really want to get into the spirit and the physical side of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Fort Clatsop National Memorial is holding a re-enactors’ school June 25-30; participants will learn about the explorers and, for a few days, live as they did.
Making salt at Seaside: Lewis and Clark sent expedition members to the beach (in what is now Seaside, Ore.) to boil seawater to get salt for preserving food.
On two weekends this summer, July 16-18 and Aug. 20-22, re-enactors will camp at Seaside’s beach. They will be in period costume, making salt, making conversation with passers-by, and trading goods, as expedition members did with Indians.
“One of the best ways to have fun is come trade with them. They’ll be offering all sorts of stuff,” said Jenkins. “I won’t give hints about what to bring … I just want to encourage people to think what life must have been like long ago on the Pacific coast and what you would want to trade.”
Descendants’ reunion: Clatsop County Genealogical Society is organizing an August reunion of descendants of the Corps of Discovery. More than 1,630 descendants have been documented, and hundreds are expected to attend the Aug. 13-15 reunion in Astoria.
Astoria fly-in: Organizers hope to bring 200 small planes in honor of the bicentennial to a fly-in and open house at the Astoria airport, Sept. 10-12, with an open house for the public Sept. 11.
“Ocian in View” weekend: A series of talks, bus tours and more will be part of a Lewis and Clark educational weekend in Ilwaco, Wash., and nearby Long Beach communities Nov. 12-14. It’s dubbed “Ocian in View” after Clark’s exclamation upon reaching the mouth of the Columbia.
Ilwaco and Long Beach also are developing an eight-mile long Discovery Trail between the communities, with some commemorative Lewis and Clark markers.
Station Camp: This easily overlooked park, a tiny riverside pullout along State Route 101 about a mile west of the Astoria bridge across the Columbia River, marks the site of the final westward camp of Lewis and Clark.
“There’s not much there right now, just a couple of picnic tables,” said Cyndi Mudge, executive director of Destination: The Pacific, the group coordinating the Northwest’s major bicentennial events for November 2005.
Station Camp is due to be expanded significantly next year, and the highway rerouted, as part of a major focus on Lewis and Clark in Washington.
It also would be included in the proposed Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, which has been endorsed by the Bush administration and would embrace federal and state Lewis and Clark sites on both sides of the lower Columbia River, including Fort Clatsop and Cape Disappointment park.
The big event: The Northwest’s centerpiece celebration is Nov. 11-15, 2005, organized by Destination: The Pacific.
It’s one of 15 national “signature events” along the Lewis and Clark route, commemorating the arrival of the explorers in the lower Columbia region and the sighting of the Pacific in November 1805.
There will be a family-oriented festival at the Clatsop County Fairground in Astoria and, for the more historically oriented, speakers and forums from Long Beach to Cannon Beach.
Kristin Jackson is a Travel writer and editor: 206-464-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org