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Lewis and Clark: The adventure begins, again

Plans are under way to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase exploration by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

May 1, 2001


Lewis and Clark: The adventure begins, again

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.

Lewis and Clark Logo

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 mound—currently a cattle feeding lot—is 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 of America."

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 son—whom 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.

Lewis and Clark route map

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 planned yet.

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 Sioux—now Lakota—on 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."