With the summer tourists on their way home, Fort Clatsop is getting a face-lift for the even bigger crowds expected next year.

Beginning today, construction crews will replace pickets and rebuild fireplaces at Fort Clatsop National Memorial's replica fort. The work, scheduled to last through September, is aimed at improving historical accuracy and fire safety at the 49-year-old structure.

The improvements will be in place for the surge in visitors expected in 2005 for the Bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's arrival at the Pacific Ocean, according to Fort Clatsop superintendent Chip Jenkins.

It's the first major rebuilding project in almost 20 years at the fort, which has undergone several face-lifts since its construction in 1955 by a group of local volunteers.

Many of the pickets, the sharpened vertical poles that make up the gates at either end of the fort, show signs of rot where they sit in the ground, and will be replaced by rough-hewn logs that probably more closely resemble the look of the original fort, Jenkins said.

The fireplaces and chimneys will be reconstructed to remove decayed wood and to improve fire safety. Unlike in the original fort, which was built of green logs and occupied only briefly during the wet winter months, the wood in the replica has dried out over the years and is vulnerable to heat from the fireplaces, Jenkins said. In December 2002 a small fire sparked by heat from a chimney scorched part of a wall.

The fireplace work includes the installation of heat shields to protect the surrounding walls. That will allow the park to use the fireplaces more frequently - fires were limited this summer because of the risk, Jenkins said.

During construction, access to the inside of the fort will be limited. But the project offers a unique opportunity for visitors to watch the repair crews at work, and gain some insight into the construction of the original fort 200 years ago, Jenkins said.

The workers include historical preservation specialists from North Cascades National Park and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in Northern California, as well as Fort Clatsop staff.

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