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COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — The Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs was created to tell the story of this area’s importance to the many westward trails of the 1800s.

The center is displaying some history of its own in celebration of 20 years of providing insight into early American travel.

Now through next spring, visitors will be able to read the center’s history in a large collection of scrap books containing preserved newspaper articles and other written accounts, photographs of special events and people, and other mementos.

Included in the collection is a proclamation by then-Gov. Chet Culver that proclaimed the center in Council Bluffs as the capital of Iowa for a day. People can write favorite memories of the center on nearby cards.

The center was formed through a partnership of government entities and the private sector, according to Teressa Sward, museum technician.

“They were looking to place an interpretive center to tell the history of the pioneers who went west from here,” Sward told The Daily Nonpareil .

The chosen site, which had long been Missouri River bottom land, was ideal because the numerous westward trails obviously had to cross the river, sometimes taking apart covered wagons so that the pieces can be placed on log ferries and reassembling them again on the other side, according to Sward.

The center officially opened on Oct. 4, 1997, and over the years tens of thousands of people have toured the center to learn more about the Lewis and Clark, Oregon, California and Mormon trails.

“We were a major jumping off point for the trails,” Sward said.

On average, between 50,000 and 60,000 visitors tour the museum annually, Sward said. During the Lewis and Clark Trail bicentennial, about 80,000 walked through the doors, she added. Many have come from far-away places as India, Pakistan, Norway, Vietnam, Sudan, Argentina and Greenland, Sward said.

The center is situated on 423 acres with acres and acres of tall native prairie grasses, as well as a pond behind the center and a bicycle-walking trail through river bottom woodlands.

Besides its historical displays, the center hosts many family-friendly educational and social events. There are also musical jams on Thursdays and Saturdays.

What’s more, it’s all free, Sward said.


Information from: The Daily Nonpareil,