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Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center is situated on the shores of the Missouri River, a half-mile from Giant Springs State Park. Located in Great Falls, the 5,500 square-foot, two-story interpretive center honors the discoveries and accomplishments of Lewis and Clark during their two-year round-trip trek from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean.

A large compass dominates the floor of the lobby at the entrance to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center with glass doors opening to the Portage Cache Store where visitors can buy a variety of gifts and books relevant to the famed expedition.

Filled with hands-on interpretive displays, maps and specimens from the Corps of Discovery's 1804-1806 exploration, the Center offers an in-depth view of 20 carefully selected events that shaped the outcome of the exploration. Each display is crafted with an eye to accuracy and is based on the actual reports and journal summaries of Captains Lewis and Clark and their men. Included in the display are replicas and original artifacts of specimens that the team sent back to President Thomas Jefferson in 1805, such as an accurate hand-drawn map of their trail from St. Louis to Ft. Mandan (what is today, North Dakota) and specimens of unusual plants and animals found along the route.

A central feature of the displays is a carefully constructed reenactment of the expedition's portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri River. Recreating the scene was no mean feat. Transporting canoes, supplies and other equipment over land meant hauling everything by hand or by a hand-made wooden trailer and pulley system up rocky cliffs and mountainsides, through brush and forest and through miserable weather conditions. What was thought to be a few days' journey turned out to be a month-long endeavor as the men successfully negotiated their way by foot around five waterfalls, some of which were as much as 70 to 80 feet in height. To recreate this important scene, designers built a canoe out of foam and fiberglass and cast likenesses of actors posed at the point of action. Actors were required to hold their poses sometimes for more than 30 minutes at a time, while artists reconstructed the scenes based on Lewis and Clark's factual accounts.

The museum also has several interactive displays that allow visitors to "recreate" parts of the journey, such as a display that shows viewers how the trip might have turned out had the explorers picked a different path to reach their destination.

Paved trails outside the center trace the explorer's stopping points along the river, allowing visitors to recreate the vision of Lewis' and Clark's bold journey west more than 200 years ago.

The Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) exhibit in the Interpretive Center includes several items important to the Nez Perce lifestyle. From the top left, the exhibit includes a salmon trap and a camas digging stick (fish and camas bulbs were staples in the Nimiipuu diet), buckskin leggings and a saddle pad, a basket with camas bulbs; and in the foreground, a diagram of the ground ovens used to prepare camas. A sample of tule reed mat walls, a common building technique in Nez Perce country, is at the far right.

Related Links

Corps of Discovery

Discovering Lewis and Clark

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. 4201 Giant Springs Road, Great Falls, MT 59405. Phone: 406-727-8733; Fax: 406-453-6157.

Lewis and Clark

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