Northwest Discovery Trail Historical Access

Historical access

This story was published Sunday, October 16th, 2005

By Stacey Palevsky, Herald staff writer

Two hundred years after Lewis and Clark reached the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers in dug-out boats carved from large logs, John and Tara Erben arrived at the same destination in plastic kayaks.

The West Richland couple were two of 45 people who canoed, kayaked or rowed 12.5 miles from Columbia Point Marina in Richland to Sacajawea State Park in Pasco on Saturday.

“I thought somebody would bring a radio so we could listen to the football game,” John Erben mused.

A fellow paddler reminded him Lewis and Clark didn’t have a radio.

“They didn’t have plastic boats either,” he said, tapping his knuckles on his yellow kayak.

Authenticity wasn’t the focus of this crew. Rather, they set out Saturday morning to designate with temporary signs five public access sites along the Northwest Discovery Water Trail, which stretches 367 miles from Canoe Camp on the Clearwater River in Idaho down the Snake and Columbia rivers to Bonneville Dam.

They’d find authenticity once they got to shore at Sacajawea State Park.

Jeff Nelson of Kennewick helped coordinate the flotilla. Save for the required rescue boat, the group traveled in non-motorized boats.

In his homemade 19-foot rowboat, “You can hear the wind. You can feel it,” Nelson said. “It’s a submersion experience. This way, the environment has its control over you, not you over it.”

The idea for the water trail was born when a few river and history enthusiasts wondered why, if Lewis and Clark traveled by river, their route was marked only on paved highways. The trail will identify entry and exit points for boaters.

As the midday sun shimmered on the crests of the Columbia River, Nelson traveled about 5.8 mph, according to his GPS monitor. Boaters paddled at their own pace.

The flotilla was part of “Lewis and Clark Heritage Days, Down the Great Columbia,” which commemorates the three days the Lewis and Clark expedition stayed in the area. The event continues through Monday at Kennewick’s Columbia Park and Pasco’s Sacajawea State Park.

Paddlers arrived at Sacajawea to see 1,400 Boy Scouts and hundreds of curious people milling about the park. Re-enactors from the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, Mo., already had set up camp.

“We like to do the education part, to share a little bit of what it was like in that period of time,” said Dick Brumley, a re-enactor who portrays John Colter. He got involved accidentally — as a volunteer with the Bureau of Land Management, he helped with safety while the Corps passed through Great Falls, Mont.

“They asked me if I’d join, I said sure, and so here I am,” he said. “To me, it’s a great privilege even to be here.”

Brumley wore beige cotton pants and an oversized suede shirt made from elk. He explained to passers-by that the re-enactors carved out the boats themselves. One took them six days. They had to hollow out the inside of the log and also flatten the bottom.

“I thought, ‘Six days, wow,’ ” said Chris Grove, 15, a Boy Scout with Troop No. 514 from LaGrande, Ore. “I’m surprised they could build it that quick.”

Around Grove’s neck hung necklaces made from leather rope, beads and elk bones. He bought them from a booth selling “mystery bags” filled with replicas of authentic items. He planned to give one necklace to each of his family members as souvenirs.

As Brumley educated a small crowd of people, Grove sat in the boat, running his hands along its rough edges.

“It’s so unique to see the kids,” Brumley said. “Their eyes are dancing and they’re having a ball.”