It all began nearly 200 years ago, fall of 1803, when Meriwether
Lewis and William Clark formed their Corps of Discovery and set
out to explore the nation's addition, the Louisiana Purchase. Little
did they know their footprints would shape our nation's history,
and millions of dollars would be spent to commemorate the 200-year
anniversary of their two-year, four-month journey.
Due to the historical and geographical impact of the original
expedition, the commemoration is receiving worldwide attention.
The bicentennial has a potential for a multimillion-dollar impact
on the 11 Lewis and Clark trail states, which include the Dakotas
and Montana. In preparation, each state has gone to great lengths
to build special attractions for adventurers eager to follow in
the footsteps of the famous explorers.
And with nearly $14 million already raised or spent on bicentennial-related
projects, these three states are banking on a lot of modern-day
Lewises and Clarks creating a trail of tourism dollars.
South Dakota: L&C vie with Mt. Rushmore
Although the official bicentennial of the 1803-1806 Lewis and Clark
Expedition doesn't begin for another year and a half, commemoration
activities are already under way and many preparations are complete.
State and river communities expect millions of tourists to follow
the trail over the next six years. Efforts include Fort Pierre's
expansion of Lilly Park, located at the mouth of the Bad River where
the Corps of Discovery averted a skirmish with the Teton Sioux.
Total expenditures for the Lilly Park land acquisition, which doubles
the size from 2.8 acres to 5.7 acres, are $232,000, said Day Breitag,
director of the Fort Pierre Development Corp.
The largest state project is a new $2.2 million information center
in Chamberlain, which boasts a replica of a 55-foot keelboat, and
expansions of hiking, biking and boating opportunities along the
Missouri River, overlooking the explorers' campsite.
One of the few places along the trail where it can be said with
certainty that Lewis and Clark actually stood is Spirit Mound, where
Indians believed "little people" or spirits lived. The moundcurrently
a cattle feeding lotis owned by the state's Game, Fish and
Parks agency. The state has received $1.2 million from the National
Park Service and an additional $600,000 federal grant to restore
the site to prairie grass by 2004.
The economic impact bicentennial visitors will have on South Dakota
is unknown but expected to be great. "It's definitely going to have
a big impact on our state. ... We don't have any estimates. Even
the National Park Services won't give out information. No one really
knows," said Mary Stadick Smith, communications coordinator for
the South Dakota Department of Tourism. "Last year Mt. Rushmore
had 2.5 million visitors," said Stadick. "This doesn't include hunters
and fishermen but it gives us an idea of the number of tourists
that have come."
North Dakota boasts 26 L&C historical sites
Total costs and benefits are also difficult to pinpoint in the
trail's northern section, but tabs are being kept on a multitude
of projects. Joanne Burke, deputy director of North Dakota Tourism,
said the last legislative session designated over $1.5 million for
tourism and $124,000 went to improving infrastructure, such as the
historical society, parks and campgrounds. In the July state legislative
session $3 million will be requested to promote the bicentennial
within the state for 2001 to 2003.
An Interpretative Center in Washburn, near Fort Mandan, where
Lewis and Clark spent their first winter, is undergoing an expansion,
raising the building's worth to $3 million. The now 11,000 square
foot center will be completed this summer. The fort marks where
Lewis and Clark met their Indian guide, Sacagewea, which means "bird
woman." Her wilderness survival and translation skills assisted
the Corps of Discovery over the Continental Divide. The explorers
had many people to learn from that winter, considering Mandan had
4,500, said Burke, compared to about 1,000 people in St. Louis,
the jumping-off point of the expedition.
"You feel like you were where Lewis and Clark were," said Dave
Borlaug, president of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Foundation
in Washburn. "You can reach out and touch it. ... This is bigger
than the U.S. bicentennial, where most people spent it celebrating
in their back yard. Everyone's coming here and discovering our part
The foundation has raised $2 million and received nearly $1 million
in state and federal grants for infrastructure, said Borlaug. The
funds go toward projects such as the On-a-Slant Mandan Indian Village
in Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, which rebuilt its earth lodges
at the cost of $1.5 million.
The Fort Buford Confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers,
commemorating where Lewis and Clark met after splitting up on their
return journey, will cost $3 million, according to Merl Paaverd,
interim superintendent of the North Dakota State Historical Society.
Fund raising for the interpretive center is well under way and plans
call for the building, near Williston, to be completed by 2003.
The Travel Industry Association of America reported 2.9 million
tourists visited North Dakota in 1998, and this is expected to increase,
said Burke. "Montana had research done with impressive numbers,
but those numbers are questionable. ... It's difficult for us to
know what numbers we'll see when tourists visit the state's 26 historic
sites along the trail where the Corps traveled." She added that
the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn saw a 10 percent
increase in visitors this past year.
Montana also in the hunt for tourism dollars
In preparation for the bicentennial Montana has spent $1.8 million
since 1998, said Victor Bjornberg, tourism development coordinator
for Travel Montana, part of the state Department of Commerce. The
program is promoting 25 publicly accessible major interpretive sites
with money from the state's tax on lodging facilities. Travel Montana
allocated $200,000 for the Great Falls Interpretive Center, completed
two years ago at a total cost of $7 million, half of which was federal
appropriation and the other half was locally matched. Fort Benton,
a fur trading post, received $38,000 from Travel Montana to spruce
up for tourists.
An additional construction effort in Montana is Pompey's Pillar,
named after Sacagawea's sonwhom Clark nicknamed "Pomp"located
25 miles east of Billings. Through the Bureau of Land Management,
which owns and manages the site, $2 million has been appropriated.
In order to begin construction in spring 2002 an additional $2 million
is needed from a nonfederal source, said Clint Blackwood, executive
director of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission in Helena.
Guesses have been made regarding how many tourists the commemoration
will actually bring. Last year the state had 9.4 million visitors,
and 9.25 million in 1999. The Institute for Tourism and Recreation
Research survey predicts the state could have 8.5 to 9 million additional
visitors from 2003 to 2006. "This is probably a bit high," said
Bjornberg, adding that only time will tell.
National Park Service gets in the act
The National Park Service will mount the Corps of Discovery II
in January 2003 from the site of Thomas Jefferson's 1803 Virginia
home, Monticello. Then in May 2004, three tour buses and semis will
depart from St. Louis and follow the time frame and path of Lewis
and Clark, reenacting legendary events where they took place. Events
will also occur between the two kick-off dates, but they are not
Dick Williams, manager of the national Lewis and Clark Trail said
about 15 federal agencies are involved in this project, which will
interact with local and state events. Reenactments will be broadcast
on the Internet for educational purposes.
Laurie Heupel, interpretive specialist for the Lewis and Clark
Trail, said there has been speculation as to how many people will
follow the national trail, citing 10 million, but it isn't a firm
estimate. "We don't know how to begin to estimate," she said. Since
the Corps of Discovery II project is in the making, it is difficult
to say how much the entire project will cost, but estimates are
at $22 million, said Heupel, and the breakdown is not known. "We
haven't even hired staff for the Corps II project. Once these people
are on board we'll have a better idea of the cost."
A study initiated by the state of Washington Tourism Department
revealed that 75 percent of people in the United States are aware
of the expedition, yet only 25 percent are aware of the bicentennial.
Native American views mixed
The Lewis and Clark bicentennial doesn't mean happy trails to everyone.
Throughout the Lewis and Clark path, emotions run high among Native
Americans. Some tribes are enthusiastic about the event and look
forward to sharing their story. Others feel at odds.
"The Lewis and Clark bicentennial draws up peoples' conflicting
feelings of the event," said Cy Maus, infrastructure development
manager for the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. "It was
an invasion into their territory," he said. "After the encounter
with the Teton Siouxnow Lakotaon their journey to the
Pacific, Lewis and Clark sent negative reports about the tribe to
Washington. They [the tribe] were guardians of the river, asking
people to pay tolls. When Lewis and Clark came with their army unit,
it was as though you have a nice estate and someone says, 'It's
ours now.' The Lakota suffered tremendously, yet they see the connection.
It's not all negative," said Maus referring to area tribes' feelings
toward the commemoration. "Tribes aren't just living in the past.
The prospect of tourism provides economic opportunity."
The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, located between Pierre and Chamberlain,
S.D., has been the "prime mover" in taking the initiative to plan
the Native American Scenic Byway, Maus said. In constructing the
byway, "the first theme we want to come across is one of Native
American culture. The second is Lewis and Clark." The byway will
stretch from Oacoma (near Chamberlain) and extend west of Pierre
on route 83 and highway 1806 (named after the Expedition). The total
cost of this trail is $1,075,000. Eighty percent of the money came
from grants from the Federal Highway Commission, and the Lower Brule
Sioux Tribe paid the remainder. The trail includes 12 interpretive
sites, Maus said. Over half of the funds were used to build a buffalo
interpretive center near Fort Pierre. "People are hoping to extend
the scenic byway through North Dakota and Montana," Maus said.
"The tribe doesn't have much employment or a well developed economy,"
Maus said. "We have some isolation from the mainstream. Tourism
is a development thought to be a good source of business."
The bicentennial serves as a means to connect area tribes with
their surrounding communities. In conjunction with the byway, the
Lower Brule Sioux Tribe developed a regional cooperative association
of tribes and communities along the trail, called Okiciapiya, which
means "helping each other."
In North Dakota, there are mixed feelings about Native American
tribal involvement in the bicentennial commemoration. Calvin Grinell,
marketing specialist of Three Affiliated Tribes Tourism and Independence
Development Center in New Town, said the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara
tribes want to be involved in the celebration "because Lewis and
Clark wintered with our people in 1804-1805. Arikara was the first
to have met with them at Fort Mandan. For that reason we are hoping
to capitalize on the opportunity ... to bring forth the contribution
of the three nations, because without us, the expedition might not
have been as successful, or [could have] failed."
According to Grinell, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota
expressed some concern about tourist traffic. They fear their burial
areas will be washed away and they have some misgivings about tourists
wandering around, picking up bones at burial sites.
Ben Speakthunder of the Fort Belknap Tribe in north-central Montana,
whose tribe had little contact with the Corps of Discovery, said
they have worked with the Department of Commerce on commemoration
activities. "We're interested in the name of tourism. Our council
is interested in promoting activities businesswise. More importantly,
we want to share our point of view. Lots of historical views have
been fictitious. We now have the opportunity to tell the real story.
I encourage the tribes to take advantage of that situation."
One of the first tribes to perform tribal dances and lecture at
various Lewis and Clark festivals is the Grosventre Tribe of Fort
Belknap, said Darrell Martin, the tribe's tourism director. The
reservation has spent about $25,000 in the past two years on marketing
for the bicentennial commemoration.
On the flip side, Matt Herman, a Stone Child Community College
instructor on the Rocky Boy's Reservation, Box Elder, Mont., said
the reservation has no plans to commemorate the bicentennial. "I'm
sure there are lots of negative feelings about it, but it's not
something that people go around talking about in public."
The tensions, however, have not dampened spirits to promote the
expedition's bicentennial. District states are welcoming everyone,
from outdoor enthusiasts to history buffs, to partake in the remembrance
of a huge piece of American history. As Dave Borlaug of the Lewis
and Clark Bicentennial Foundation put it, "We feel privileged to
be here at this moment."