Lewis & Clark National Historical Park sails through Senate at warp speedSomething quite amazing happened last week when the U.S. Senate approved a new 2,060-acre Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Clatsop and Pacific (Wash.) counties.

If you weren't paying attention, the true significance of this groundbreaking event might be missed, or minimized as a mere expansion and renaming of the existing Fort Clatsop National Memorial. In fact, it is much more.

In today's political climate of stark division between Democrats and Republicans, between "blue" states and "red" ones, between preservationists and developers, it is remarkable and more than a little refreshing to find something we all can agree upon. Creating a new national park, or even expanding one, sometimes takes generations of struggle. This one - sailing more like a racing yacht than a dugout canoe - rode the Lewis and Clark legend to a swift and friendly conclusion.

The warmth and good will that united the congressional delegations of Oregon and Washington - and, indeed, the entire Congress - is a reminder of what it was like before national politics descended into bitter division. The Corps of Discovery embodied the best of America - our spirit of democracy, friendship, openness and adventure. And somehow this spirit survives, made real by our mutual admiration for the brave men and woman who walked these woods and shores 199 years ago.

In our country, history almost always is something that happened on the East Coast, and it is symbolic of national maturity that this once-remote area on the Pacific now joins such sites as Gettysburg on the roster of the nation's most powerfully evocative places.

Many have likened the Lewis and Clark Expedition to an American Odyssey, and you have only to open Homer's 2,700-year-old prose poem at random to see why: "A huge swell reared up as the rock went plunging under, yes, and the tidal breaker drove us to our island's far shore ... we lay down and slept at the water's shelving edge. When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more I roused the men straightway ... they swung aboard at once, they sat to the oars in ranks and in rhythm churned the water white with stroke on stroke." This easily could have been written by one of the captains of their entrapment and escape from Dismal Nitch, one of the three Washington sites named to the new park.

The expedition's months in our two counties were overfilled with such scenes of glory. These are stories that bind us together as a people and a nation. This park and the achievement it celebrates will unite the two sides of the Columbia in ways we can only imagine and with an intensity unheard of since the glory days of the Chinook people.

Next year's bicentennial will be whatever it is in terms of our economy, but this park and the events it memorializes will live on for centuries, helping each new generation rediscover the strength and meaning of America.


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