LONG BEACH - The Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Area is moving closer to reality.

Supporters of the concept have raised enough money to hold their first series of public-input workshops Dec. 3 to Dec. 8.

Cyndi Mudge, director of "Destination: The Pacific," the Lower Columbia region's signature event for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial in 2005, is continuing to work on enhancing the historical value of the region. She said the upcoming meetings are designed to gather input from the public about their passion for their communities.

Mudge said the workshops are going to be straightforward introductory events to teach people what the heritage areas are. The first series of workshops will provide an overview of the process to create a National Heritage Area. She said organizers hope to gather comments on community culture, heritage and natural resources and on proposed themes and the boundaries of the Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Area.

Mudge said organizers are going to look at what's on historic registries. "That often doesn't reflect what's important to each community," she said. "We have to make an inventory for each community, because it's going to be different in each community."

Congress designates places "where natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography" as National Heritage Areas.

The process to have the region earn the designation was spearheaded in its early stages by Superintendent Chip Jenkins at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. His successor, David Szymanski, shares his enthusiasm.

"The area here is quite a bit ahead of other areas," said Szymanski, who started work at the park earlier this fall. "They've taken it upon themselves to start raising money for the study, which puts them ahead of other proposed areas."

The cost of the Columbia-Pacific study is estimated to reach $275,000. Contributions are being accepted.

Already a bill for a feasibility study has passed out to committees in the House and Senate in Washington, D.C.

Mudge said there are two parts to the designation process. First, Congress has to authorize a feasibility study.

Once Congress authorizes the feasibility study, that formally engages the National Park Service in the process.

"Right now, the National Park Service offers heritage area organizers advice," Mudge said.

Authorization also begins the education of Congress on the projects and helps with fundraising.

The second part of the designation process is to conduct necessary studies - including a National Environmental Protection Act Study.

Environmental analysis is already under way.

"In our case, we're looking at social and economic impacts. The study shows why we're significant, why we need this designation," Mudge said.

The study - including an extensive process of public input - should take two years to complete.

Once designated, a management entity will be recommended - whether managed by the National Park Service, a governor-appointed board or a hybrid. That entity will have three years to complete a management plan.

Szymanski said while he served Congress, in his prior position for the Senate Park Subcommittee in Washington, D.C., he saw good examples of successful Heritage Areas.

"The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area in Pittsburgh - the steel industry has gone defunct, but the steel industry shaped the landscape," he said. "It has helped to revitalize the region.

"I think the history we have here at the mouth of the Columbia is much richer with its canning, fishing, fur trade, shipping and Coast Guard."

Mudge said most National Heritage Areas are in the East; the farthest west is in Nevada.

Six other areas are proposed in Washington and Oregon.

Mudge said the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial was the perfect time to begin looking at history as seen from the West Coast.

"We started telling about Lewis and Clark from the West Coast perspective," she said. "It was a chance to start telling our story."

She said, until then, the story of Discovery was told only from the East Coast perspective. It was all the dull stuff. Who asked for the expedition and how was it funded. The real history, she said, is what happened after Lewis and Clark's expedition left on its trip West.

"It includes the Native Americans' stories," she said. "They were trading at the mouth of the Columbia River for 1,000 years before Lewis and Clark."

She said when they arrived at the Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark encountered natives wearing European hats in recent styles.

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