Every year since it opened in 2004,
the Missouri River Basin Lewis and
Clark Center has welcomed visitors from all 50 states and numerous foreign countries.
Last spring’s floods and the closure of Highway 2 threatened to end the streak, but the reopening of the road in August allowed the streak to continue when two sets of unrelated visitors from Vermont came to the center to complete the 2019 state total.
The center is the first point of contact many visitors have with Nebraska, said Doug Friedli, executive director of the center, and the staff works hard to make them welcome.
“We can connect them with things they’re interested in after talking with them for just a few minutes,” he said.
The center offers 2.5 miles of trails through 79 acres of riverside property, and the 12,000-square-foot visitors’ center helps tell the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition, particularly in terms of its contributions to western science and the role the Native American tribes played in the expedition.
Lewis and Clark discovered 300 species of plants and animals on their journey that were previously unknown, said Friedli.
He said the two-year-long expedition came into “the front yards” of 57 different tribes as it crossed the continent from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean.
Throughout the year, the center hosts a variety of events for area residents and visitors, said Friedli.
These include Christmas for the Birds, which is taking place today (Dec. 27) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the center, 100 Valmont Dr.
Children can construct a variety of wild bird feeders, which they can take
home with them to attract birds to their yards.
After Christmas for the Birds comes the First Day Hike on Jan. 1, 2020, which offers hikers trail maps and the opportunity to start the new year in the great outdoors.
Fridays in January and February will feature Brownbagging with the Birds at noon.
Guests can bring their lunches and bird-watch from inside the center.
Friedli said the center’s location along a major flyway gives birders a chance to see species that are uncommon in other parts of Nebraska.
In March, the center will host its annual Archaeology Show, which brings together artifact collectors who show off their collections.
The monthly Saturday with a Soldier living history program takes place on the second Saturday of the month from May to October.
School field trips also bring numerous fourth-grade students to the center during the school year, he said.
Friedli said guests can literally walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, who made camp on the property that now houses the center during their journey.
Clark wrote about the boundless prairie he saw after walking up the bluff on which the center sets while following elk tracks, said Friedli.
Clark became so distracted by the vista that he forgot to finish tracking the elk, said Friedli.
During the flood, Friedli said he posted daily updates about the river so visitors could better understand what was going on.
After 270 days, he finally took the updates down in early December when the Missouri River dropped below flood stage.
At one point in March, he said the view out the center’s windows on the main floor was 5 miles of solid water.
The highway being closed during much of the peak travel season of June through September cost the center many visitors, said Friedli.
“The road being closed had an impact” on visitors coming to the center, he said, “and the detour still has an impact.”