Editorial: Lewis and Clark park improving in impressive ways

"Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia" by Charles Marion Russell

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is reaching toward an ambitious maturity that bodes well for its long-term contributions to our area and the nation.

In recent decades the park has evolved from little more than a local project into a destination of international significance. Now spanning a diverse menagerie of sites spread along both sides of the Columbia estuary and encompassing a far richer history than merely the explorers' 1805-06 visit, the park has achieved a gravity that it long lacked.

It isn't that it was uninteresting or poorly managed in the past - its superintendents have included a succession of people well qualified in bringing the Corps of Discovery to life for modern visitors. But decisions that began a decade ago to expand the national park and partner with state parks sparked a whole surprising cascade of benefits.

Foremost among these is that the park takes in so much deep history of the Chinook people and intersection between diverse trans-Pacific civilizations. Archaeological digs and partnership with modern Chinook leaders hint at tantalizing stories of a previously unknown past. It's been a bit like buying a Happy Meal and opening the box to find instead a rich gourmet repast.

The Washington State Historical Society, the Garvin-McGowan family, the Washington and Oregon congressional delegations, Pacific County Friends of Lewis and Clark, Weyerhaeuser, Sen. Sid Snyder, the city of Long Beach and the Washington State Department of Transportation all deserve kudos, plus many others.

Beyond the wealth of tribal history there, the new Station Camp park unit also will tell the story of white settlement-era salmon packing, while all the park's lands and waters hold the promise of eventually offering an immersion in natural surroundings much as they existed here centuries ago. Plans are in the offing to nurse salmon creeks and ancient forests back to life.

An interesting skirmish involves forest restoration around Fort Clatsop, with some expressing an avid interest in harvesting timber within the park, supposedly to mitigate potential fire danger. A blow-down in December 2007 might be loggable elsewhere. But within the context of a national park, the tangle of trees is actually a good start toward what the explorers would have encountered 205 years ago. And when it comes to fire danger, nobody is losing sleep over the prospect of our soggy, mossy forests erupting into flames anytime soon.

It will take another 25 years or more, but with human help, nature is in the process of returning the park's lands to what they were long ago, aiming for a kind of wild setting like that in Oswald West State Park south of Cannon Beach. Restoration of wetlands and streams also is moving forward in constructive and creative ways.

Having all this in our midst greatly enhances our quality of life, from providing access to recreational lands and watchable wildlife, to helping purify our water and providing storm buffers. Economically, the visitors drawn by these first-class natural and historical assets will provide good jobs here for generations to come.

Lewis and Clark may be just a small part of this long story, but we're awfully lucky they came this way.

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