Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sacajawea State Park honors Indian guide

Dug-out canoes at Sacajawea State Park
Sacajawea State Park, near Pasco, Washington, honors Sacajawea, Lewis & Clark’s guide on their Corps of Discovery journey from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Ocean.

The park is located at five miles south of Pasco at the confluence of the mighty Columbia and Snake rivers. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark left St. Louis in May 1804, looking for an overland passage to the Pacific Ocean. On October 10, 1805, they arrived in what is now Washington State, traveling down the Snake River to where it joins with the Columbia. They arrived at the confluence six days later on October 16, staying for two days to explore the area, before continuing down the Columbia to their final destination, the Pacific Ocean. They also stayed in the area on their return trip to St. Louis in the spring of 1806.

Sacajawea joined expedition in North Dakota
They spent the winter of 1804-05 at Fort Mandan, in what is now North Dakota, where they added Sacajawea, a 17-year-old Shoshone, to their group. She was to serve as their translator and sometimes guide for the remainder of the trip. Also joining the expedition was her French-Canadian husband, Toussaint Charbonneau and their infant son, Jean-Baptiste.

But it is Sacajawea which this 284-acre park honors. The park was originally a construction site for the Northern Pacific Railroad, and was called Ainsworth. When the railroad moved on, the town disappeared, eventually to be replaced by the park, which got its start in 1927 when some land was given to the Pasco chapter of the Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington. The group deeded the land to Washington State in 1931. The Sacajawea museum was built in 1938 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) to display Native American artifacts from Columbia Plateau tribes.

Visitors may note two spellings of Sacajawea’s name, even inside the park. The traditional and historic name, Sacajawea, is used at the park and the interpretive center.  The Shoshone word means “one who assumes a burden.” The name, Sacagawea, is used in the exhibits, and means “bird woman.” This was her given name.

Interpretive center explains journey
The museum is operated as an interpretive center today. It tells the story of the Lewis & Clark expedition, with emphasis on the West. There’s a marvelous statue of Sacajawea, a lodge made from reeds, and a display of items that the expeditionary corps would have had with them, among other things.

The interpretive center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily April through October.  The park itself is open from 6:30 a.m. to dusk year ‘round, though in the winter months, visitors must park at the gate and walk in. Once inside the park, a myriad of activities are open to visitors. The list includes hiking, walking, picnicking, swimming, boating, fishing and bird watching.

A number of activities take place at the park during the open months. They range bluegrass festivals, old-time fiddlers, heritage days and haunted forests.

Sacajawea State Park is part of the Washington State Parks System. It is located southeast of Pasco just off Highway 12 at 2503 Sacajawea Park Road