Celebration At Trail's End
When all the hoopla about the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark?s expedition began 10 years ago, there was talk of a national pilgrimage of tourists who would follow the explorers? footsteps, wallets open and spreading dollars from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean.
The Lewis and Clark bicentennial was going to be a tourism bonanza, filling motels, restaurants, gift shops and campgrounds.
Historian Stephen Ambrose, dressed in a fringed buckskin jacket to promote ?Undaunted Courage,? his best-selling 1996 book about the expedition, predicted ?crowds beyond any of our imaginings.?
Harry Hubbard of Seattle, the founding president of the National Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council, suggested Washington could see as many as 10 million visitors.
As it turns out, that was pie in the sky.
The Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebration culminates in Washington this week, with several days of activities planned in the southwest corner of the state. The events celebrate the time and place where the exhausted explorers arrived at the Pacific Ocean, spent the winter and turned around to head home.
The celebration sounds like fun, but expectations about attendance have been radically revised.
Pacific County?s bitter November weather has set in, gas prices are high, kids are in school and all indications are that the occasion will be similar to others along the trail in the past 21/2 years.
Generally, they?ve drawn enthusiastic local residents and tourists who happened to be in the area anyway, but no grand rush. State tourism officials say about a million people will visit Washington in 2005, about the same as usual.
?I don?t want to make it sound as if nobody will show up,? said Una Boyle, executive director of the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors? Bureau and a member of Pacific County Friends of Lewis and Clark for the past eight years.
?The appropriate way to put it would be, we?re expecting a robust crowd, but I just don?t think it will be an enormous number of people.?
Washington?s place in history
Building a buzz for the Lewis and Clark bicentennial took creative work by Washington tourism promoters and revisionist historians.
For most of the past two centuries, Oregon, not Washington, has been regarded as the more historically significant state.
As the explorers made their way down the Columbia, they camped on the Washington side of the river more than the Oregon side, Nicandri and Ziak noted.
More important, it was in Washington, not Oregon, that the explorers first glimpsed the ocean, thereby completing the mission handed them by President Thomas Jefferson.
And then there was the matter of ?The Vote.?
The commanding officers put matters up to a general vote of all present: Where should they spend the winter? Should they stay in Washington, where they were cold and wet and members of the Chinook tribe were robbing them blind? Or should they head to Oregon where they?d be out of the weather and among the friendlier Clatsops?
Not surprisingly, the majority favored Oregon. More notable than the Washington snub, however, was the fact that a woman and a black man were allowed to vote for perhaps the first time in the New World.
Barbara Minard, collections manager at the Ilwaco Heritage Museum, agrees that the vote was significant. But she says the practice of co-opting Lewis and Clark for commercial reasons is as old as the expedition itself.
She?s managing a show at the Ilwaco museum called, ?Don?t Bother Me With the Facts: Uses and Abuses of the Lewis & Clark Theme in Popular Culture.?
The exhibit includes more than 800 Lewis and Clark tchotchkes produced over the past two centuries, including liquor labels, candy bars, cast iron pans with images of Lewis and Clark on them, shot glasses, toys, spoons and key chains.
The number of people who have come to see the show has been underwhelming, according to museum director Nancey Olson.
?There may have been a slight increase,? she said. ?It?s hardto tell.?
Olson suspects that a slight rise in visitation over the summer had as much to do with the cruise ships that have begun docking in Astoria.
Events attract locals
Plenty of people were expecting too much of the bicentennial, but Betsy Gabel says she was not among them.
Gabel runs the marketing section of the Washington state tourism office, where researchers study patterns and motives of tourists the way biologists analyze the migrating habits of wild animals.
No tourism marketing professionals have been surprised by the turnout for Lewis and Clark events, Gabel said.
The pattern fits perfectly with precedents set during other recent historical events, including the 150th anniversary of the Oregon Trail and dozens of statehood anniversaries. The sequence, she says, is simple: unreasonable expectation followed by sobering reality.
?We did a ton a research, and every tourism office in the country knew what was going to happen,? Gabel said. ?We determined that visitation would follow normal travel patterns. No state was going to see a huge influx of visitors.?
The difficulty, she said, was convincing people outside the profession.
?What often happens is various public officials and agencies look at it, and because they?re not familiar with how things work they say, ?It?s a great big event. Of course a thousand billion people are going to come.??
The idea of ?heritage tourism? is so outdated, Gabel said, industry professionals don?t even use the term anymore. O.K,Bye
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