Organizers of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial rolled out the red carpet for local business owners and community leaders Thursday at a reception at Fort Clatsop National Memorial.

The event, organizers said, provided an opportunity for local citizens and merchants to get a better picture of what's planned locally for the national commemoration, and how they can get involved.

Public agencies, local nonprofit groups, Native American tribes and other organizations set up displays explaining their respective roles in the Bicentennial, which will culminate in the Lower Columbia region in November 2005 with a series of events on both sides of the river under the theme "Destination: The Pacific."

"The business community has been asking us, 'what is going on, what is going on?'" said Cindy Mudge, executive director of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Association. "We organized this meeting to show them what is going on. We want people to start connecting and see

how they can take advantage of different opportunities.

"I would love it if people would start calling me and asking, 'how can I get involved?'" she said.

Bicentennial organizers are interested in providing such services as hospitality training for service workers, and sharing information about the Lewis and Clark story for people who deal with tourists, Mudge said.

Fort Clatsop Superintendent Chip Jenkins said the area is also seeing more tourists as a result of the Bicentennial.

"The Bicentennial kicked off in January, and they're coming our way. And folks will tell you, they're already here," he said.

Fort Clatsop itself experienced a 13 percent increase in visitors this summer, with a 22 percent increase in August alone, Jenkins said.

The open house occurred two days after the Senate approved $1.25 million for Fort Clatsop's planned expansion. Open house visitors were given information on the expansion plans, including the shuttle station and fort-to-the-sea trail.

Jenkins announced that the head of the National Park Service has endorsed the proposed expansion of the Fort Clatsop park unit to take in the Station Camp and Megler Rest Area facilities on the Washington side of the Columbia River, plus a site in Fort Canby State Park. The plan, which would include those facilities as well as Fort Stevens and Fort Canby state parks in a unified Lewis and Clark National and State Historic Park, next goes to the Secretary of the Interior for review, and then to Congress for final approval.

The park plans to go to bid in the next few weeks on the first major project of the expansion - the Netul Landing parking area and shuttle stop south of the park on the Lewis and Clark River. Local contractors are being invited to submit bids for the project, Jenkins said.

"This is a key, key component of Fort Clatsop's expansion," he said.

State Rep. Betsy Johnson said she recently attended a meeting of agency representatives to discuss the fort-to-the-sea trail, which will provide a five-mile route linking Fort Clatsop to Sunset Beach. The meeting showed that the state is serious about moving forward with projects that will provide lasting legacies in Clatsop County.

"We are getting it done," she said.


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