When was the last time you pulled into a national park and found yourself surrounded by hundreds of pounds of dog fur, baseball-sized paws and slobbery pink tongues? For those who attended Seaman’s Day at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, the answer was Wednesday.
The 26th annual celebration is dedicated to Meriwether Lewis’ Newfoundland, “Seaman,” a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
By noon, eight giant dogs were on the park grounds, sprawled out below gift-shop displays, wandering through Fort Clatsop’s historical shelters and scarfing down kibble outside of the visitor’s center.
Children with paw prints painted on their foreheads and floppy paper ears on their heads ran between the animals. The littlest had to reach up to run their small fingers through the big dogs’ thick fur coats.
“It’s like trick or treat,” said Chris Werme, who accompanied her brother, Doug, and his Newfoundland, “Georgie,” who at 94 pounds was the smallest Newfoundland at the park.
Seaman’s Day is the busiest day of the year at the park. “It’s the only day we run out of parking,” said Debbie Kaspar, a park ranger.
People from all over the country call year-round to inquire about Seaman’s Day. More than 200 visitors had stopped in by midday, despite the rainy, gray skies.
“I like to think this shows people what Lewis and Clark lived in,” Jack Chapman said of the weather. “It gives them the real experience.”
Chapman was at the event with “Happy,” his 151-pound dog, who rolled around on the visitor’s center floor, welcoming belly rubs and ear scratches throughout the morning. Based on her lethargic nature, it’s hard to believe Happy consumes four cups of kibble, 1 pound of ground turkey or beef and a handful of chopped bananas every day.
The all-day celebration featured nature walks, ranger talks, panel discussions and more. The Kids Corps offered a free craft-corner, where visitors could get dog-themed face paint and create their own Newfoundland headband. At each stop, of course, was at least one pup.
Sally Freeman, a park ranger, coordinated the event. Freeman, who gave a presentation on Seaman, has been with the park since 1989.
The only person at the event who had worked with the park longer than Freeman was volunteer Bob Zimmerling, who along with his wife, Ray, has been bringing his Newfoundlands since the mid-1980s.
“Deacon,” the Zimmerling’s 155-pound, 8-year-old Newfoundland, is the park’s mascot.
He makes a park appearance at least three times a month. The third Zimmerling Newfoundland, Deacon is the only dog allowed inside the visitor’s center year-round. Thanks to park staff, Deacon has his own official name tag, a golden pin that Bob Zimmerling wears on his national park polo.
“Everybody wants to come to Deacon or talk about Deacon,” Ray Zimmerling said. “It’s all about Deacon.”
The event welcomed other large-breed dogs, including Great Pyrenees and Landseers. For some visitors, Seaman’s Day was their first time around dogs this large.
“So many kids are afraid of big dogs,” said Wanda Bruenderman, who was visiting with her daughter and grandchildren from Utah. “But these dogs are so gentle.”