Fort Clatsop
Lewis and Clark Trail from Fort Clatsop to the Clatsop Plains
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The historical significance of the Fort Clatsop site has been discussed at length in the Fort Clatsop Suggested Historical Area Report. However, some recapitulation appears necessary as a background for understanding the relationship of the significance of the trail to that of the fort site proper.

The Fort Clatsop site undoubtedly possess national significance because (a) it was associated importantly with the lives of two great Americans, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; (b) it was associated with the Lewis and Clark expedition, which was a dramatic and important incident in American history, leading to the strengthening of American claims and interest in the Pacific Northwest; and (c) it possesses strong merit as a point from which the broad aspects of the Lewis and Clark story can well be presented to the American people.

On the other hand, it cannot be said that the Fort Clatsop site was associated with any decisive or "climactic" point in the Lewis and Clark journey. The objectives of the expedition had been reached prior to the time the party began looking for a place to spend the winter months of 1805 and 1806, and the selection of the Fort Clatsop site was largely the result of there being abundant game in the vicinity at the time . The desire of the leaders of the expedition to obtain salt for the first part of the return journey was also a factor in the selection of the Fort Clatsop location, but apparently the obtaining of this commodity was not considered vital to the continued progress of the expedition. [40]

This lack of vital connection with the main events of the expedition provides problems when it comes to determining what shall be the statement of significance, or the interpretive theme, of the authorized Fort Clatsop National Memorial. The bill authorizing the establishing of this area states that the area is being set aside "for the purpose of commemorating the culmination, and the winter encampment, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition." This purpose, of course, will be made. clear in the development and in the interpretive program at the Memorial. Yet, in the opinion of the present writer, the lack of association between the site and the climactic events of the expedition makes desirable a shift of emphasis . [ In his opinion, the Lewis and Clark expedition should be commemorated at the Memorial largely as being symbolic of the bravery and determination of the men and women who won the west for the United States.] The Lewis and Clark expedition was, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "all that an exploration should be," an example of patience, fortitude, skillful leadership, and devotion to duty under conditions of extreme privation and hardship. This, in the opinion of the present writer, is the aspect of the expedition that should be stressed at Fort Clatsop and which is the essence of the true significance of the area.

In order to make this aspect of the expedition story meaningful to the American people, the present writer believes that the principal objective of all development and interpretation at the Fort Clatsop Memorial should be to re-create for the visitor the isolated and forbidding aspect of the Fort Clatsop vicinity as it was during the four months the expedition camped on the site. The re-creation of this scene requires an adequate tract of land which can be permitted to revert over a period of time to its primitive state of dense coniferous forest and adjoining marsh. In his opinion, the acquisition of such land should be the primary consideration in determining desirable boundaries for the area.

As has been seen in the preceding narrative, the trail used by the expedition between Fort Clatsop and the Pacific Coast was not vital to any major objective of the expedition. Its use was merely to facilitate the obtaining of a convenience, salt, and to provide access to a hunting area. Evidently, however, the trail was largely used for these purposes only when more convenient routes, later discovered, were not passable. Therefore, one must reach the conclusion that the Lewis and Clark trail to the coast was really of minor importance even for the story of the stay of the expedition at Fort Clatsop. Therefore, the acquisition and preservation of any large portion of this trail certainly can be only a secondary consideration in the planning to carry out the main theme of monument 's development and interpretation.

However, this much having been said, it must be recognized that the trail would have certain positive advantages as a means of furthering the primary purpose of the area. If the route of the trail were preserved, and if visitors were able to follow it through woods which appear today much as they did to Lewis and Clark, people would gain the most vivid impression of the type of hardships and the terrain which had to be overcome by members of the expedition. Therefore, the total impact of the area upon the visitor, and the ability of the area to transmit its message, would be increased. Certainly, the experience of following a portion of the original trail would be of high visitor interest . Such a feature would be a desirable and imaginative addition to the area facilities.

Therefore, the preservation of a significant section of the Lewis and Clark trail must be considered as desirable, providing the necessary land acquisition does not adversely affect the acquisition of all of the lands in the immediate fort vicinity which are considered essential for the preservation of the historic scene.

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Last Updated: 04-May-2004