Bicentennial planners decide Thanksgiving just will not workGrowing worries about the timing of the local Lewis and Clark Bicentennial commemoration in late 2005 have led organizers to reschedule the event.

"Destination: The Pacific," a series of events marking the Corps of Discovery's arrival at the Lower Columbia originally scheduled for the Thanksgiving weekend, has been bumped forward two weeks to Nov. 11-15, 2005.

The change, announced Tuesday by the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Association, is the result of increasing concern among members of the group that the original schedule presented too many potential obstacles and conflicts for visitors, volunteers and the local business community.

Most of the activities scheduled for the event are still planned, but the centerpiece Thanksgiving dinner, commemorating the expedition's historic vote on its winter quarters, has been scrubbed. Organizers are working to come up with a new event.

The association has discussed a possible rescheduling in earnest for the past two months, but the issue has lingered almost since the original dates were chosen nearly two years ago, said LCBA Executive Director Cyndi Mudge.

"There was always an undercurrent of, 'how will this work with our community?'" she said.

"Destination: The Pacific" is one of 15 "signature events" being held across the country to commemorate the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, which kicked off in January 2003 in Charlottesville, Va., and continues to 2006. As the event marking the Corps of Discovery's arrival at the "end of the trail," it's expected to be one of the most popular.

The event includes musical and theatrical performances, Native American cultural events, an exposition at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds and activities at Fort Clatsop National Memorial. The highlight of the event was to be a large Thanksgiving dinner held at Station Camp near Chinook, Wash., commemorating the expedition's historic vote on where to spend the winter.

But the doubts about the potential conflicts that could arise with the Thanksgiving holiday became too strong to ignore.

In particular, organizers worried that many of the volunteers that the event will rely on would not be available over the holiday, Mudge said. Local merchants also raised red flags about the impact on business, particularly the popular Friday-after-Thanksgiving shopping day.

The impact on visitor numbers was also a worry, said LCBA president Jan Mitchell.

"Thanksgiving is one of the worst travel times of the whole year, and one of the most expensive," she said. "We knew that might limit people."

ControversialThe decision was a difficult one - two LCBA members quit over the issue, Mitchell said - and the vote included a pledge that some type of symbolic event would be held on Nov. 24 to commemorate the vote.

"There are a lot of strong feelings," she said. "Some of the people were particularly dedicated to having the event on Thanksgiving, on the November 24th date."

LCBA members recently returned from a meeting of the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, where they presented their plans for the date change. They were in Portland Tuesday to discuss the new schedule with state Bicentennial organizers.

The signature events, which are sanctioned by the national council, must be held close to the 200th anniversary of the events they commemorate, but it is left up to the local organizing groups to pick the exact dates, Mitchell said. The national group was satisfied with the change, she said - it is just printing new brochures listing the remaining signature events, and can include the new dates in them.

With the move to the Veterans Day weekend, "Destination" will no longer fall on the exact anniversary of some the events it's meant to commemorate. But it still lies within the dates that the explorers spent on the lower river, including at Station Camp, Mudge said, and will still commemorate the four key Lewis and Clark milestones - the expedition's arrival, the vote, the crossing to the south shore and wintering over at Fort Clatsop.

"November 15th was the actual date they came to Station Camp - they held the vote on November 24th," she said. "We're fortunate they were here an awfully long time."

On Nov. 24, the group took its historic vote on whether to stay at the mouth of the river or head back upstream at its encampment known as Station Camp. The vote holds special significance because Sacagawea and Clark's slave York participated - the first recorded votes of a woman and African-American in the United States. Holding the commemoration on the exact anniversary of the vote was a key reason the Thanksgiving weekend was chosen for "Destination" in the first place.

The expedition's crossing of the river to the south shore is to be relived with a symbolic walk across the Astoria Bridge. The crossing is still planned, although its now being called "Considering the Columbia." As planned, the crossing would close one lane of the bridge - and the original schedule called for the event to take place the Friday after Thanksgiving, traditionally the biggest holiday shopping day of the year, Mudge said.

Washington issueThe change of dates was also driven by news that the state of Washington plans a major event to dedicate the new interpretive center planned for construction at the Station Camp site. The dedication is planned for Nov. 15, and organizers decided that the event would make a better finale for the two-state program, rather than the beginning of a long program ending on the Thanksgiving weekend.

The association has been studying the other signature events as they occur. The most recent, the "Falls of the Ohio" in Louisville, Ky., in October, lasted two weeks, and seemed to suffer because of it, Mitchell said. Visitors couldn't take off that length of time, and the duration wore out volunteers and groups who participated. For that reason, the local Bicentennial association decided it couldn't stretch "Destination" from Veteran's Day weekend to Thanksgiving.

"We wanted to do something with the volunteer base and funding base we had that was a credit to the community," she said. "We knew we didn't want something going on from the 11th to the 27th."

With the new schedule, the Thanksgiving dinner planned at Station Camp Nov. 24, which envisioned up to 1,000 guests paying $100 or more a plate, has been scrubbed. The dinner was dropped not merely because of the date change, Mudge said - as one of the organizers put it, "we would be feasting when the men at the time were starving," she said.

Organizers are now working to come up with another event to commemorate the vote. Mudge said there's been discussion about using the event to highlight the story of York, possibly in collaboration with documentary filmmaker Ron Craig, who has chronicled the history of the expedition's only black member. Other ideas include an on-line "vote" for the public.


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