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    HELENA—It was 200 years ago that Lewis and Clark sat in winter camp at the Mandan village readying themselves to experience what the land now known as Montana had to offer.

    Today Montanans active in leadership roles for Lewis and Clark Bicentennial efforts at the state and national level are doing much the same thing.

    “We are fortunate to have some great people who are tied in at the state and the national level that have helped our state prepare for Bicentennial activities that kickoff in Montana in 2005,” Montana Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission Executive Director Clint Blackwood said.

    Bicentennial events have occurred along the trail in other states to coincide with the Lewis and Clark route over the past couple of years, and Blackwood and others said events held most recently in North Dakota were very successful.

    “We think this is positive as activities head into Montana. We know there will be some bumps along the way, but we will work hard together to make this a positive experience for all,” Montana Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission Executive Director Clint Blackwood said.

    One of the problem areas in other states has been that some Native American groups have withdrawn support or criticized Bicentennial activities.

    Montana Gros Ventres and Assiniboine Tribal Chairman Darrell Martin said he understands some of those concerns, but that one of the reasons Montanans have been careful to call it a commemoration and not a celebration of the Expedition is to recognize its impact on the people who already lived here.

    “The Bicentennial is giving us a chance to tell our (the Indian) story to a broader audience. Not only are we ready to do that, I think we have to do that,” Martin said.

    Martin is a member of the state Bicentennial Commission as well as National Indian Liaison for the National Park Service Corps II program. Corps II is a traveling venue following the Lewis and Clark route that provides a forum for telling the story from all sides.

    “Everything is going pretty smoothly with Corps II, but there are some questions. What Corps II does is let people stand up and speak about their own history and their culture,” Martin said.

    Corps II will be making 18 stops in communities across Montana over the next two years and will be an important part of statewide and community events along the trail, Blackwood said.

    Martin and Blackwood encouraged people to attend local events including those planned by Indian Tribes to build a better understanding of shared history and heritage.

    “I think it will clear up some of the miscommunications and presentations that people have about Indian people, and vice a versa,” Martin said.

    The state Bicentennial Commission has also focused on enhanced communication with emergency and first-responders across the state to help events go smoothly and safely, Blackwood said.

    George Donnelly of Helena, who is on the National Guard Bureau National Steering Committee for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, said guardsmen will do what they can to make the commemoration a success in Montana.

    “Obviously, events in Iraq and Afghanistan take precedence over all,” Donnelly said. “But the troops are proud to be able to participate with things in their own communities if they can.”

    For example, in South Dakota a Guard engineering unit helped get the boats of Lewis and Clark history recreators around obstructions in the Missouri River that didn’t exist at the time of the expedition, he said.

    “That unit that had just returned from overseas provided a lot of work in portaging boats around the dams in South Dakota,” Donnelly said. “They were proud to show some of the skills they had and to show the country what they can do.”

    Guardsmen in other states have participated in fly-by tributes and other public Lewis and Clark activities, he said.

    “Why do they want to do it? It brings goose bumps to you with how that interaction between today’s soldiers who are facing difficult challenges of their own, and the public goes,” Donnely said.

    Blackwood said that cooperation with federal agencies in Montana such as the National Forest Service, the Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management also has been instrumental in preparing for the bicentennial.

    BLM acting National Field Coordinator for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Dick Fichtler of Missoula said his agency has readied the expedition sites in Montana that it manages, including Pompey's Pillar, for the commemoration.

    “We are doing all we can within the realities of the federal budget process to make this a success for Montana,” Fichtler said.

    Margaret Gorski of Missoula who is the Forest Service’s Lewis and Clark Bicentennial National Field Coordinator said her organization has been working for more than five years to get ready for the commemoration.

    “We have done our fundamental job of taking care of the precious resources along the trail, and in helping make sure that people have a good time,” she said.

    The commemoration has been a success so far in other states, she said, “but it is important that communities set realistic expectations for what to expect.”

    “Knowledge of Lewis and Clark is higher in Montana than elsewhere. How that will play out over the next two years, I don’t know,” she said.

    Cooperation between local, state and federal groups in Montana has been tremendous over the past few years, she said.

    “I think Montana has done about all it can to get ready,” she said. “Now it’s time to sit back and let the people enjoy it.”

    Blackwood encouraged people to plan now to take advantage and get tickets for the National Signature events to be held in Great Falls this summer and in Billings next year as well as the local events planned across the state.

    “I think the Bicentennial has already been a positive experience for Montana, and will continue to be so for many years and in many ways in the future,” Blackwood said.



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