Rebuild Fort Clatsop

October 04, 2005 11:00 pm

Yes, Fort Clatsop was a replica of the original fort built by the Lewis and Clark expedition for that wet, miserable winter of 1805-06.

But just as the exhibits at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center outside Baker City do for the Great Migration, the fort replica gave people a chance to experience how the expedition lived on a real and human scale. To step inside one of those tiny, dirt-floored cabins on a drizzly day was to question what you would do if President Jefferson asked you to explore the Louisiana Purchase.

For certain, what burned Monday was not an irreplaceable historic wooden structure from the Lewis and Clark era. But it was a structure with a 50-year track record of educating the public about that winter 200 years ago — a record good enough to make the fort part of the new Lewis & Clark National Historic Park.

That's why we are certain Fort Clatsop will be rebuilt. And while there are more important things for the federal government to concern itself with rebuilding, especially in the Gulf South, the Fort Clatsop fire need not pour more rain on the Corps of Discovery bicentennial.

It might actually be an opportunity to improve the interpretive experience.

Instead of putting the rebuilding project out to bid in a traditional fashion, the National Park Service could request proposals from a modern-day Corps of Discovery made up of historic interpreters and enthusiasts for mountain man skills (and a general contractor for good measure). The winning bidder could rebuild Fort Clatsop (and winter there, if so desired) 200 years after Lewis and Clark and their crew did the exact same thing.

Think of it:

No chain saws or nail guns or vinyl windows.

No Home Depot or Bob Villa or "Trading Spaces."

No building department or OSHA or real estate deal.

And no rules about which trees to fell for the fort save for those stoutest and closest to the designated site.

Suspend your disbelief about the impossible quagmire of red tape such an undertaking would actually encounter in today's world, and then ask:

Could modern Americans do what Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery did — with the same tools and conditions?

What a fantastic way to honor the expedition and assure the enduring legacy of Fort Clatsop as an educational opportunity of national importance.