Officials struggle to prepare for Lewis, Clark bicentennial

Monday, December 16, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Missouri and federal officials are struggling with logistics and emergency planning to accommodate the hundreds of boats expected on the Missouri River for the coming bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

By the spring of 2004, planners say, as many as 500 boats at a time could be jockeying for cruising and mooring space on the Missouri while following an officially sanctioned re-enactment of the historic journey by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

"You could wake up one morning and find 500 or 1,000 boats without anybody having planned for it. We've got all these things we're not sure we're ready for," the Missouri Department of Conservation's Shannon Cave said, stressing the river's dangers.

"Once you start moving up the Missouri, you're in a different world," said Cave, the department's representative on the state Bicentennial Commission.

Earlier this year, a group of federal agencies including the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers formed a panel to weigh problems on all of the rivers Lewis and Clark traveled from Pennsylvania to the Pacific Ocean.

Among the panel's concerns: boaters who are inexperienced, drunk or both; a shortage of toilets and pump-out sites for boat sewage; and boaters plundering the numerous American Indian graves and sacred tribal sites along the Missouri.

To Cave, yet-to-be-addressed issues include a shortage of places to buy fuel and what he referred to as the absence of a central office for coordination and information.

Though there are no official estimates on how many Americans will take part in the celebration, unofficial guesses often reach into the tens of millions.

Sanctioned events begin Jan. 18 with inaugural Virginia festivities marking the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's secret request to Congress for money to finance the expedition.

On Aug. 31, 2003, a 30-man crew of the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, a St. Louis suburb, leaves Elizabeth, Pa., in its three replica vessels to re-enact the journey to Wood River, Ill., as Lewis and Clark prepared for their westward voyage.

They will follow the Monongahela River to the Ohio River, then travel up the Mississippi to a winter encampment as the explorers did in 1803.

When the re-enactors head up the Missouri, four Missouri Water Patrol members will be assigned to accompany them during the two-month trip up the Missouri stretch of the river.

Peter Geery, scheduler and executive officer for the St. Charles re-enactors, said he doubts that as many as 500 boats -- the figure state officials are using -- will show up at key events or try to follow them on their journey.

Still, he said, "I see the problem developing mostly on the weekends. The possibility is there that everybody and their brother is going to get on the river, and it's a daunting thought."

Problems could occur if just a few dozen boats show up at small towns where events are planned. Docking sites are scarce, and planners worry of such scenarios as one boat breaking loose from its mooring, then crashing into another and generating a chain reaction.

"There are just lots of things to go wrong," Cave said. "You can imagine a chain reaction in which, all of a sudden, you've got 10 boats turned over and 50 people in the water. You just hope that nobody comes out in bags."

"We not discouraging people to get on the river," said Steve Burdic of the Columbia-based Missouri River Communities Network. "We're encouraging them to know what they're doing. The Missouri is not just a ditch; people become different people on the river because of its beauty and majesty."

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