- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

LYNCH, Neb. — Communities near the Missouri River in Nebraska are sprucing up in preparation for visitors retracing the route taken by Lewis and Clark on their westward trek.

There’s no way to gauge how many people might pass through the state next year, but some have estimated the number of people expected to follow the westward steps of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark at 40 million.

The bicentennial re-enactment is expected to reach Nebraska next summer, ending with events in the northeastern part of the state in August and September before moving into South Dakota.

The Missouri River forms the state’s eastern and northern borders, from Richardson County in the southeast to Lynch near the South Dakota border. Nebraska has events planned for next year throughout the area, which covers more than 250 miles of the Lewis and Clark trail.

Efforts to cater to tourists include the production of stuffed animals — black-tailed prairie dogs, to be precise — in Lynch. Lewis and Clark discovered the pesky rodents near the town, and 15 women have been gathering every Tuesday night in the home-economics classroom of Lynch High School to sew and stuff Lynch Dawgs, 9-inch-tall plush-toy prairie dogs made of synthetic fur, polyester fill and assorted felt body parts.

The final touch is the trimming of extra fur around each dog’s face.

“They give them haircuts, and we have fur all over the place,” says Jane Faith, the home-economics teacher.

The stuffed animals, which cost about $16 apiece, have provided an economic boon to this 269-person village near where Lewis and Clark found what they chronicled in their journals as “barking squirrels” on Sept. 7, 1804. The explorers captured one of the animals seven miles north of town near a landmark known as Old Baldy, a mound near the southern bank of the Missouri River.

Sales of nearly 800 Lynch Dawgs have netted about $9,500. The money is being used for community improvement projects as the city prepares for thousands of visitors next summer during the bicentennial re-enactment and celebration of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery expedition.

Lynch plans a communitywide celebration the first weekend next September, and it will include a locally written play about Lewis and Clark’s first encounter with the prairie dog.

Retirees Bill and Gail Hastings hope not too many tourists come through. The Jupiter, Fla., couple set up camp at South Sioux City’s expansive riverside park a month each summer to visit relatives and escape Florida’s oppressive heat and humidity.

Next year, they might have to make other arrangements or just sweat it out at home.

“Hopefully, they won’t be here,” Mr. Hastings says as he parks his recreational vehicle at the 134-acre scenic park, which features a large swimming pool, 18 soccer fields and five baseball diamonds.

South Sioux City will attract people with a late-August celebration in conjunction with bicentennial activities across the river in Sioux City, Iowa.

In anticipation, South Sioux City has added 20 RV spaces, making room for up to 90 RVs to park there. However, that will provide temporary housing for just a fraction of the visitors predicted to descend on the area next year.

“We’re hoping that we could throw electric lines somewhere if we need to,” says Jack Wardell, the city’s director of parks and recreation. “We’re just waiting to make sure this is going to be as big as it’s supposed to be.”

Shana James has no doubts. “They’re going to show. I hope all 40 million come through here,” says the manager of the Corps of Discovery Welcome Center, two miles south of the Missouri River and Yankton on Nebraska Highway 12.

The influx has started already. About 20,000 people last year visited the center, located in a former rest stop with a scenic overlook of the river valley.

“It makes sense to me. If you love your country, why wouldn’t you go through and look at it?” says 75-year-old Jim Wagner, who drives 50 miles three or four times a year from his home in Winnetoon to volunteer at the center.

Mr. Wagner and other docents dole out information to visitors about the area and Lewis and Clark sites for free.

Other communities, both large and small, also are preparing for the bicentennial.

In Lynch, the community celebration planned for early September is billed as old-fashioned family fun, with a parade, a horseshoe tournament, children’s games and a tug of war.

Along the river near Ponca, the $8 million Missouri National Recreation River Resource and Education Center opened this summer at Ponca State Park. About $14 million in additional improvements, including a grand lodge, are in the works.

Capitalizing on the bicentennial depends on a community’s location. Some just a few miles from the river worry that they will lose out.

That’s why 12 Nebraska communities partnered to create the mythical Shannon Trail to draw some people off the river. The 240-mile route is a scavenger hunt to retrace the steps of Pvt. George Shannon, a corps member who got lost for 16 days in northeastern Nebraska in 1804.

Other towns from South Sioux City to Valentine are promoting Nebraska Highway 12 as the Outlaw Trail. One stop in Lindy, an unincorporated community named for famed aviator Charles Lindbergh when founded in 1928, claims to have a hideout used by Jesse James and his gang.

Even Wayne, 35 miles from the river, is using the bicentennial to promote its annual Wayne Chicken Show in July, which will carry the theme “Lewis and Cluck” next year.

South Sioux City’s event will be called Fish Camp II. When Lewis and Clark camped out in the area 200 years ago, they fashioned a drag and caught 318 fish.

The city had a dry run of its celebration featuring food, entertainment, speakers and a fishing tournament in August.

“We had a terrific event,” says Donna Goodier of the South Sioux City Convention and Visitors Bureau, “and plans are under way to make that bigger next year. We hope the tourists will come.”

• • •

A complete list of Lewis and Clark events in Nebraska is available on the Web (www.lewisandclarkne.org) or by calling 800/426-6505. Exhibits and events include:

• “Adventures With Lewis and Clark” exhibit at the Omaha Children’s Museum, Dec. 20 through April 18.

• “Fossils of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park in Royal, May 1 through Oct. 10.

• “Lewis and Clark on the Great Plains,” Great Plains Art Collection in Lincoln, May 7 through Aug. 29.

• Lewis and Clark Center opening, July 30 in Nebraska City.

• 200th annual Harvest Dance, Aug. 23 through 29, Omaha Tribal Reservation in Macy.

To order a Lynch Dawg, send a check for $23.25 to Joan Faith, 89689 503rd Ave., Lynch, NE 68756. More information about Lynch and the Dawgs is on the Web: www.ci.lynch.ne.us.

Outlaw Trail: www.nebraskaoutlawtrail.org/index.html

Corps of Discovery Welcome Center: www.crofton-ne.com/discover.htm

Nebraska Division of Travel and Tourism: 877/NEBRASKA or www.visitnebraska.org.

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