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Can-do spirit of Lewis and Clark in Fort Clatsop rebuilding effort.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

"It would be distressing to a feeling person to see our situation at this time, all wet and cold with our bedding &c. also wet, in a cove scercely large enough to contain us, our baggage in a small holler about 1/2 a mile from us, and canoes at the mercy of the waves & drift wood. ..." - From William Clark's journal entry about six days spent at Dismal Nitch.

FORT CLATSOP - It's not just the buckskin circuit who shows up here anymore.

Ordinary citizens as well as extraordinary fans of the Lewis and Clark expedition - the buckskin circuit to National Park Service staff - are taking time to visit the replica of the fort that sheltered the Corps of Discovery when it wintered in Oregon 200 years ago.

Dozens of books, a television documentary and two years of bicentennial celebrations have contributed to an explosion of interest in the journey led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The 33-person team departed St. Louis, Mo., in 1804, traveled to the mouth of the Columbia River and back to St. Louis by 1806, with only one expedition member's life lost along the way.

It's a story of remarkable adventure, leadership, diplomacy and human struggle, said Chip Jenkins, superintendent of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park just south of Astoria.

"No day was a foregone conclusion," he said of the epic sojourn. "The outcome was not preordained. Never was there an easy day."

Staff members at Fort Clatsop have weathered their own challenges since Oct. 3, when a loose spark from a blaze in the fort fireplace grew into a fire that burned the entire structure to the ground. It was a heartbreak for staff and community members preparing for bicentennial events at the site.

Chip Jenkins got the call at 10 p.m. from the site manager.

"The unthinkable has happened," Ron Tyson said. "The fort has burned down."

Jenkins drove out and discovered that the best efforts of four fire departments hadn't stopped the blaze. As word filtered out into the community, offers of help to rebuild came pouring in.

Within a month, long-planned bicentennial events began at the site. But instead of a fort, visitors were treated to an archaeological dig, where specialists uncovered stone tools from the Clatsop Indians who had lived along the coast for thousands of years.

And while there was nothing that could definitively be said to have come from Lewis and Clark, there were bits and pieces - pottery, buttons and bottles - from the white settlers of the 1840s and '50s, Jenkins said.

By Dec. 10, the replica was being reconstructed with donated logs at the Clatsop County Fair building.

On that first day, 125 people showed up to help, Jenkins said. All told, 650 volunteers have worked on the reconstruction, putting in more than 2,500 hours of volunteer labor.

By February, the disassembled logs had been transported to the site, marked and ready to reassemble.

By March 23, the 200th anniversary of the day that Lewis and Clark began their return trip home, the fort will be mostly complete.

The fort that burned wasn't the original, and it wasn't a perfect replica. Community members built it in 1955 - assembling it in an airplane hanger, then breaking it down and transporting it to the spot where it now resides. On a small knoll above the Lewis and Clark River, it's a site that historians and longtime area residents agree was the likely location where the expedition team spent the winter.

The fort design is based on descriptions and drawings in Clark's journal, and gives visitors, particularly children, a way to connect with the past, Jenkins said.

"It's a hook, a way to make the story more real," he said.

Besides the fort itself, the site includes a visitors center with intriguing dioramas and films. The fort also is part of the newly established Lewis and Clark National Historic and State Parks.

Newly created trails add to the sense of history. One takes visitors from the fort down to the Lewis and Clark River, skirting the route explorers used to locate their winter camp. The other - about six miles long - takes visitors down to the ocean, where members of the corps went to hunt, kept a lookout for sailing ships with which to trade and obtain salt to preserve their meat.

While the new fort has gone up relatively quickly, it wasn't built as fast as the original, Jenkins said. Clark drew out the floor plan on Dec. 10, and the soldiers moved in on Christmas Eve.

They were motivated to work fast. "They were living under rotting elk hides," he said.

Fort Clatsop is open to the public year-round, has a $3 entrance fee and attracts about 250,000 visitors a year.

RETURN HOME

A Celebration marks the start of Lewis and Clark's trek from Oregon back to St. Louis.

Thursday: 11 a.m., New Fort Clatsop exhibit opens; 11:30 a.m., Netul Trail Dedication.

Friday: Programs every hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Fort Clatsop Visitor Center.

Saturday: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., join park rangers canoeing on the Lewis and Clark River beginning at the Netul Landing.

Sunday: 10 a.m., hike the new Fort to Sea Trail from Sunset Beach back to Fort Clatsop, about 6 miles.

To get there: From Astoria, drive south on Highway 101 and follow the signs to Fort Clatsop, about 7 miles south of the city. For more information, visit the Web site at www .LewisandClarkNationalPark .com. Call (503) 738-3311, Ext. 101 for information.
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Title Annotation:General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 19, 2006
Words:940
Previous Article:FINAL PASTURE.
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