New National Historic Park will tell an unheralded story and draw visitorsIt was not exactly an October surprise, but we'll take it. Even though it was done without ceremony, President Bush's signing of legislation to create a Lewis and Clark National Historic Park last weekend was a watershed moment for the Columbia-Pacific region. It is every bit as significant as the creation of the Fort Clatsop National Memorial in 1956.
The good news in this matter is at least twofold. Park designation raises the visibility of Lewis and Clark's visit to the region that is now defined by Clatsop and Pacific counties. By assembling and marking historic sites on the north shore of the Columbia River, a relatively unheralded part of the Lewis and Clark story will gain new prominence and be interpreted to visitors.
The seeds of this new park were sown by Pacific County writer Rex Ziak in a lengthy discussion published in this newspaper and the Chinook Observer in November 1997. Ziak argued that the explorers' journey came to its end on the north shore of the Columbia, rather than at Fort Clatsop. He described in great detail the peril of those days before the explorers took a vote and came to what became Fort Clatsop.
All members of the Northwest congressional delegation played a role in the progress of legislation creating the new national historical park. Congressmen David Wu, who represents Clatsop County, and Brian Baird, who represents Pacific County, were especially important, as were Oregon and Washington senators, and Congressman Norm Dicks of Tacoma, Wash., carried the ball at the end.
This region is an enormously historic component of America's history in the West. There was a robust native culture here that stretched well up the Columbia. Robert Gray's entry into the Columbia River in 1792, Lewis and Clark's arrival in 1805 and the founding of Fort Astoria in 1811 are the triad that established an American presence.
The great myth of 2004 is that America lives beyond the reach of history. Faith in technology feeds that illusion, as does our national ignorance about all things historic. The creation of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park is an opportunity to enlighten future generations about where we came from.