By Ron VandenBoom
Travelers on Amtrak will be treated to a visit from Lewis and Clark, their famous Indian guide Sacagawea, and other famous figures related to the Corps of Discovery as they travel between Williston, N.D., and Shelby starting May 22. Other travelers riding between Minot, N.D., and Malta will also be visited by historical figures.
The added bonus of historical figures is part of the Trails and Rails Program that exists between the National Park Service and Amtrak.
Gary Wilson, co-chairman of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee, said he is excited by the potential the Trails and Rails program has to enhance Havre's tourism industry.
"It's a unique and novel way to get the word out," Wilson said. "The program costs Havre virtually nothing and yet offers the potential of some handsome returns."
Michael Casier, Amtrak partnership program coordinator for the Empire Builder and park ranger for Fort Union in North Dakota, is the Lewis and Clark bicentennial coordinator for the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site.
Casier has arranged an impressive program of education and entertainment for Amtrak that he said he views as a real opportunity.
The key, he said, is to create an interest in our area so the passengers will want to come back.
"It's kind of an out-reach program," he said.
Casier and the National Park Service has planned what he calls "route scripts" related to Lewis and Clark's real-life experiences in North Dakota and Montana. The scripts will be read over the train's public address system to entice travelers to the lounge car where they will view replicas of artifacts that are part of a "traveling trunk" display.
It is hoped, Casier said, to eventually have the volunteers dressed in period costumes, but it is not certain they will be able to accomplish that by May.
The trunk will contain artifacts, such as a sextant, field journals produced by the American Philosophical Society, and maps of the Missouri River. They will be of a type actually used by Lewis and Clark during their expedition.
Also in the trunk, Casier said, will be tourism brochures provided by various chambers of commerce, advertising attractions and historical sites to see along the route.
The volunteers will also tell stories about Lewis and Clark's first run-in with a grizzly bear or how they had to make a pivotal decision on which route to take when they reached the Marias River in central Montana. The actors will also answer questions.
Casier said he has arranged for volunteers hired through the National Park Service Volunteer Program to play the characters in the project.
The Lewis and Clark program will run from Williston to Shelby on Tuesday and catch the return Empire Builder from Shelby back to Williston on Wednesday.
The second program featuring Indians from the Knife River Indian Village near Minot, N.D., will run from Minot to Malta on Fridays and Sundays returning on the east bound Amtrak the same day.
The Knife River program will be much the same as the Lewis and Clark program except the "traveling trunk" display will contain items such as furs, knives, and trinkets that would have been valuable to the villagers during the time Lewis and Clark visited the Knife River Village during the winter of 1805.
Casier emphasized that this will be the first time anything like this has been attempted along the route of the Empire Builder and there is a learning curve associated with the project.
"So we might not have everything up and running this summer," he said.
Wilson said he feels the program gives Havre a chance to expose itself to hundreds of tourists every year that have never heard of Havre and would not normally be aware of the many quality attractions in this area.
"Many of these people will have their first opportunity to look at a Havre brochure and hear about the area from the volunteers," he said. "Some of those people will want to come back and spend some time. It's a win win situation for everyone."