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Even fire can't erase history

Fort Clatsop is still a vital piece of the past, even without the replica

The Oregonian

History often burns, but it's never burned away.

So the site of Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-06, is still as vital a part of Oregon and American history as it was before Monday evening, when a 50-year-old replica of the fort went up in flames.

The flat piece of land by the Lewis and Clark River is still the place where the Corps of Discovery established the first U.S. presence on the Pacific, where its members faced the reality of no water route across the continent, and where they studied their notes of plants and creatures that no one in the United States had ever seen before.

Although we have not fared sumptuously this winter at Fort Clatsop, Meriwether Lewis wrote when he could at least see the end of a soggy Oregon winter, we have lived quite as comfortably as we had any reason to suspect we should. . .

The re-creation of the fort, built to mark the expedition's 150th anniversary, had drawn increasing numbers of visitors as the bicentennial approached ' including one group that arrived Tuesday after an 18-day trip from Missouri, providing them some of the frustration that was a central part of the original expedition. By Tuesday Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., was promising that Fort Clatsop would be rebuilt, and fundraising fliers were already circulating.

— Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins noted that new technology could produce a fort and experience closer to the original ' but the Nov. 11 date of the signature event is very close.

The visitors expected for next month's bicentennial signature event, marking the expedition's arrival at the Pacific, won't see the re-created fort, with cramped wooden bunks and demonstrations of 1804 weapons and hide tanning.

What visitors will see is a new trail extending from the fort area to the coast, where the expedition distilled salt from sea water. They will also have new ways to view historical sites in Washington that this year were joined with Fort Clatsop to create the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.

The new national historical park has sadly lost a popular re-creation of its fort. But this year it has gained resources that are original and real and lasting.

And they're built on a meaning that can't be burned down.