The replica fort is not only open to the visitor but it has re-enactors available to walk you through the fort explaining each of the rooms and what the conditions were for the party. We enjoyed the discussion with the guide and later walked on the trail along the riverside.
Photographers: many opportunities for pictures. Bring a zoom with wide-angle. Rooms are really dark, so a flash is desirable.
You would think that given the amount of information about Lewis and Clark in the vicinity that it would all become a little repetitious. Some of it was, but amazingly enough each place had just a little bit different focus and we learned at every one. I enjoyed the map showing where the expedition was on that particular day in each of the three years they journeyed. And it was nice to see the statue that included the dog who accompanied them. Best of all was the information that of all the hundreds of new biological and botanical specimens returned by Lewis and Clark only two were named for them: the Lewis Woodpecker and the Clark Nutcracker. This center also included information about the native people among whom the corps lived, and the story of why we know where the fort was located.
One of the "highlights" of the visit to the fort is watching docents load, prime and shoot the muzzle loader, an example of the type of rifle which was used to provide food for the corps. This was fun, and while the safety measures that must be taken detract somewhat from the impact, it was still informative to actually see the steps that must be taken and the time it takes between shots. When it took up to five minutes to reload, when your life depended on shooting the deer or elk in order to eat I can see why these early woodsmen were such good shots. You wouldn't want to miss the one shot you had.
Just outside the fort was an area set aside for the cooking. It was an area almost as large as the fort itself, however its position outside the fort helped prevent fire burning it down. It also kept the messy job of butchering the more than 130 elk and other animals which provided their food outside of the living quarters.
I had imagined this to be small. But somehow instead it just felt cozy. Maybe because I wasn't holed up here with all the men in the cold and rain for months on end. I felt the design was well thought out and practical. We enjoyed the banter of the two men dressed and behaving as corps team members. The rooms for the men, for the leaders, for the quartermaster and one for Sacagawea, little Pomp and Charbonneau were all authentic looking and suitably rustic.
Fort Clatsop used to be a National Memorial, analogous to a National Monument. An upgrade to National Historic Park = National Park means a lot more money to spend. There used to be a little trail that went from the reconstructed fort to the Netul - now Lewis and Clark - River. That trail has been extended for another mile south on boardwalks to the basically overflow parking area given the grand name of Netul Landing. That said, the trail is magical, edging along the quiet marshes of the river, eroding wooden pilings sticking out of the river alluding to a much busier time.
Fort Clatsop is long gone. It was only meant to last the winter. The first reconstruction was built in 1955 but burnt down in 2005 and now the second reconstruction is in place. A hundred days in even the reconstructed fort during a typical Clatsop winter is probably no more exciting that that spent in 180-1806 by the Corps of Discovery. The fort was a simple construction of basically rooms for the enlisted and the captains in which to escape the constant rains.
Fort Clatsop is the heart of the Park and the museum here at Fort Clatsop is a good place to start - though the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center at Cape Disappointment is an even more excellent place to begin your knowledge quest. The basics of the journey, which actually began at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and the Corps’ time here at the Columbia River mouth are explored making your time at the reconstructed fort that much more educated.
Seaside has defined itself as the end of the trail since it has a site of the Expedition: the Salt Works. This is a fascinating town with beach access in additon to the historical context.