Lewis & Clark option would interpret significant areas that are barely marked"Monumental" is the only word for the Interior Department's decision to back the most comprehensive proposal for a new conception of the Lewis and Clark historical areas of Pacific and Clatsop counties. As we reported last week, Interior Secretary Gale Norton recommended the creation of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Area.

By endorsing the full-blown option, Norton has given full license to the imagination. There are marketing benefits in the national historic area concept. But the essence of the proposal is to recognize and interpret elements of Lewis and Clark's arrival that have been virtually ignored.

Naselle writer and historian Rex Ziak began the process of resurrecting these stories in articles published in the Chinook Observer and Daily Astorian in 1997. Ziak portrayed the intense drama that was played out in the area called the Dismal Nitch and Station Camp.

Ziak makes a convincing argument that Station Camp was the end of the journey. Whether or not one agrees with Ziak's interpretation of the Lewis and Clark journals, the struggle that immediately preceded the explorers' arrival was the stuff of high adventure, a life-or-death saga.

Station Camp also was the setting of the vote on where the exploration party would spend the winter. That choice, in which Sacagawea and the slave York were included, has caused the historian Dayton Duncan to call this place "the Independence Hall of the West."

The consequence of Secretary Norton's endorsement is enormous. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and Reps. Brian Baird and David Wu have responded quickly by introducing legislation that will authorize the new designation.

This is the best federal development for the Columbia-Pacific region in many years. The National Park Service has been a splendid neighbor for almost 50 years. This expansion will make a good thing even better.

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