"There are two things we can't control - the size of the crowd, and the weather. We've done everything else," Jan Mitchell said.
The chairwoman of the planning committee for the "Destination: The Pacific" Lewis and Clark Bicentennial event was busy Tuesday cutting out a condor for display during the program and tending to a handful of other last-minute chores.
But otherwise, the years of preparation for the long-awaited event have come together, and organizers are waiting to see whether the public will be drawn to the area just as Lewis and Clark were 200 years ago.
Activities are already under way, with the opening of the Corps of Discovery II traveling exhibit in Long Beach, Wash., earlier this week, and the arrival of Lewis and Clark re-enactors from Missouri Wednesday.
The Bicentennial officially kicks off Friday morning at the opening ceremony at Fort Stevens State Park, and is followed by the "Merry to the Fiddle" concerts Friday and Monday, the Consider the Columbia ceremony on the Astoria Bridge Sunday and Monday's dedication of the new Fort to Sea Trail. Other programs taking place over the weekend include the "Ocian in View" lecture series, the Festival of the Pacific at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds and Living History re-enactments at Fort Clatsop.
The opening ceremony, beginning at 9 a.m., features a Native American color guard with representatives from 21 Indian tribes, as well as a 21-gun salute from both shores of the Columbia, a flyover, Lewis and Clark re-enactors and a performance of the national anthem by Katie Harman. Govs. Ted Kulongoski of Oregon and Christine Gregoire of Washington will attend.
If the weather proves too inclement, the morning ceremony will be moved to Rilea Armed Force Training Center.
The event is followed by a reception at 3 p.m. at Camp Rilea, where military representatives will speak about the expedition.
"Destination: The Pacific" is one of 15 Signature Events nationwide planned for the three-year Bicentennial, but as the "end of the trail," the local event was expected to be one of the most popular of all the Signature Events.
In the early planning stages some organizers contemplated crowds reminiscent of the hordes who swamped Astoria during the visit of the battleship Missouri in 1998. But planners are now anticipating more modest numbers, roughly equal to what the area normally sees on a busy August weekend.
Given the area's limited traffic capacity, the prospect of large numbers of visitors influenced the choice of events, Mitchell said, with organizers deciding to spread out the activities at several sites to make sure there were no major logjams.
Coast to coast eventsSince its kickoff in Virginia in early 2003 the Bicentennial has a drawn a core following of "Clarkies," dedicated Corps of Discovery fans who are expected to attend the local event. But organizers have received queries from others as well.
"There are people having family reunions - one woman is bringing 14 of her children and grandchildren," Mitchell said. "Some people have a connection, they might be descendants of the Corps, but there are a whole bunch of people who are just interested in history, and always wanted to go to the Oregon Coast."
The untimely loss of Fort Clatsop in a fire last month also generated a flood of calls from concerned visitors wondering what the loss of the famous replica would mean for the Bicentennial. Staff at the park, which is due to host a large party of first-person interpreters, altered the program to have the group portray the explorers before they moved into the fort.
Early on, organizers determined to make the Bicentennial a two-state event, Mitchell said. It was that bi-state cooperation, she said, that helped lead to the creation of the new Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, which takes in Fort Clatsop and several other Lewis and Clark sites in Oregon and Washington.
The person most responsible for illuminating the full story of the Corps of Discovery's arrival at the Pacific is Naselle, Wash.'s Rex Ziak, whose research of the explorers' struggle the last few miles down the Columbia and their search for winter quarters resulted in the book "In Full View: A True and Accurate Account of Lewis and Clark's Arrival at the Pacific Ocean."
Ziak, who is scheduled to speak on the early Northwest fur trade as part of the "Ocian in View" lecture series, called the local Bicentennial commemoration "a great event," but is skeptical it will be a watershed event in the history of the North Coast in the way the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition was for the city of Portland.
"The Bicentennial is not a single event, it's like a chain that runs coast to coast," he said.
The Destination event was originally planned for the Nov. 24 weekend, but was changed when organizers worried about conflicts with the Thanksgiving holiday.
Ziak was among those on the planning committee who supported the original dates, which coincide with the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark's famous vote at Station Camp and their crossing of the river to the Oregon side.
That his research played a role in helping create the new bi-state national park was an "accident," Ziak said, and he credited the work of the Washington and Oregon congressional delegations in making the park a reality. The public, however, still remains largely unaware of the full story of the Corps' arrival, and that education process will likely go on long after the Bicentennial.
"It's a slow process to teach it correctly," Ziak said.