Commemorating the Bicentennial

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

Lewis and Clark began their epic journey up the Missouri River on May 14, 1804, but our nation's bicentennial commemoration of Lewis and Clark's epic journey officially started in January 2003, at Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, at Charlottesville, Virginia.

The National Council for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial has identified 15 "National Signature Events" marking significant milestones, turning points or achievements of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The first of four national signature events taking place in Missouri is the Three Flags Ceremony. This event, marked for March 10-14, commemorates the transfer of Upper Louisiana from Spain to France to the United States. The event culminates with a ceremony on the Gateway Arch grounds March 14. It will include governors of the Louisiana Territory states and performances by the French Air Force Band and the U.S. Army Band's Old Guard in period dress. For more information contact Dr. Wendell Smith, University of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis, (314) 516-5255, or visit online.

From May 14 through May 23, the city of St. Charles will commemorate the national signature event titled, "Preparations Complete, The Expedition Faces West." May 14 also marks the start of the St. Charles 25th Annual Lewis and Clark Heritage Days Festival. You can to see replicas of keelboats and pirogues (canoes made from hollowed tree trunks), see reenactors in period dress, learn about 19thcentury crafts, and taste 19th-century foods.

For more information, contact Venetia McEntire, St. Charles Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission, (800) 366-2427, or online.

The event labeled "A Journey Fourth," which is scheduled for July 3-4 in the Kansas City area, marks the first Independence Day observance west of the Mississippi River. In 1804, the expedition celebrated the holiday with two cannon blasts. In 2004, organizers plan nearly three weeks of Lewis and Clark commemorative activities, including an air show and a spectacular fireworks displays.

For more information, contact Emilie Jester, Heart of America: A Journey Fourth, 1100 Main, Suite 2200, Kansas City, (800) 858-1749 or online.

The event marking the return of Lewis and Clark will take place in St. Louis on September 23, 2006.

Lewis and Clark links

  • Dugouts: jim.duncan@mdc.mo.gov, (573) 522-4115 X 3256
  • Traveling exhibits: nrgrelc@dnr.state.mo.us or (573) 751-2854.

Many communities, organizations, government agencies and even private businesses are planning bicentennial anniversary programs to coincide with these national signature events. These festivals or programs offer both a glimpse into the past and an opportunity to learn about modern river issues. Even if education or celebration is not your goal, these programs and events offer everyone a chance to reacquaint themselves with the marvelous Missouri River.

The Keelboat

Discovery Expeditions of St. Charles is Missouri's official reenactment group. It travels the rivers in replica boats--one keelboat and two pirogues.

The group started retracing Lewis and Clark's water route near Pittsburgh, Pa., in August 2003. After spending this winter camped in Illinois, they will move through Missouri between May 14 and July 17.

Their 1804 attire, river savvy and authentic encampments thrill crowds and students wherever they stop.

Corps II

Corps of Discovery II is a national traveling exhibit developed by the U.S. National Park Service and supplemented by Missouri's Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission.

Ten Missouri stops, including one in Cape Girardeau last Thanksgiving, feature an exhibit tent telling the story of the original Corps of Discovery, as well as a 150-seat program tent (heated and air conditioned) called the Tent of Many Voices. TOMV will present 8 hours of programming daily, featuring a variety of programs by national, state and local experts.

Programs and exhibits from Missouri state agencies will accompany Corps II, and help coordinate activities with local communities and schools. In 2004, Corps II will visit St. Louis, Springfield, Ste. Genevieve, St. Charles, JeffersonCity, Boonville, Sibley, Kansas City and St. Joseph.

Outpost

The Exploration Outpost is a project of the Missouri River Communities' Network, a non-profit group, and Americorps, a national volunteer program. Its mobile encampment of tents with information and education programs can move quickly and will visit many small towns along the Lewis and Clark route.

Dugouts

Conservation Department staff in period attire will provide programs and have several dugout canoes and replica keelboats displayed at many schools and events on the trail and throughout Missouri.

Educational programs also will take place at conservation areas and at Conservation Nature Centers throughout the year.

Exhibits

The Missouri Historical Society has the premier national exhibition of artifacts surviving from the original Lewis and Clark Expedition. It will be in St. Louis' Forest Park from January 14 to September 6. From there it will move to Philadelphia, Portland, Denver and Washington D. C. before closing in 2006.

A traveling version of that exhibit can be provided to any community in Missouri. The Missouri State Museum ((573) 751-2854) handles reservations. Other exhibits of art, maps, botanical specimens, and other aspects of the expedition are also being shared by many communities.

Information about community plans is constantly changing, so consult local sources for dates and schedules. The most current source of schedule information is the Missouri Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission. You can find a calendar of events at online or call (800) 334-6946. Local newspapers are the best source of local information, and Conservation Department offices can tell you when conservation staff will have programs or exhibits.

Exhibits, festivals and reenactments are a great way for people to connect with the epic story of Lewis and Clark.

During and after 2004, many communities are undertaking Bicentennial legacy projects. These projects are to capture something of the spirit and determination of the members of the Corps of Discovery. Prime examples include the recently completed St. Charles Lewis and Clark Boat House and Cape Girardeau's Lorimier Red House. Fort Osage, in Jackson County, will have a new visitors center in a few years. Several communities, including Kansas City, St. Charles and Jefferson City, have or will erect new statues.

Lewis and Clark interpretive signs are being erected at public vantage points to the river and the Lewis and Clark Trail, including at nearly 40 conservation areas. These signs tell the story of the expedition in Missouri site-by-site. Reading the signs at each stop is like turning pages in an adventure story.

These signs are part of the efforts of state agencies and communities to rekindle interest in our two great rivers. Many communities are renovating or improving their river frontage by adding trails, parks, boat ramps and, in some cases, marinas. These renovations may have been triggered by the bicentennial, but the facilities will benefit the communities and river recreationists for decades.

The Lewis and Clark Bicentennial commemoration not only looks back to the heroic exploits of Lewis and Clark and their crew, it also gives us a chance to pass on an appreciation of natural resources to our grandchildren, great grand children and beyond.

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