Two expeditions pay tribute to pioneering explorer

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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The first of two Columbia River living-history expeditions in the span of two weeks is scheduled to come ashore today in Washougal.

Both groups are observing the 200th anniversary of the voyage of David Thompson. The North West Company explorer surveyed the Columbia River in 1811, mapping it from its source to the Pacific Ocean.

The group that plans to paddle from Beacon Rock to Washougal today calls itself Voyages of Rediscovery. The paddlers plan to land at Captain William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach, and will offer free canoe trips to the public Thursday.

The other group, the 2011 David Thompson Columbia Brigade, is scheduled to reach Vancouver on July 12.

The two groups are taking different approaches to the trip, with the David Thompson Columbia Brigade starting on June 3 in British Columbia.

Shorter journey

Voyages of Rediscovery is doing the portion from Beacon Rock to the Pacific Ocean. Its 10 paddlers are traveling in two dugouts and two canoes, said spokesman Adam Wicks-Arshack, of Chewelah.

“One dugout was carved from a 27-foot ponderosa pine log,” Wicks-Arshack said. “It started out at 9,000 pounds and got carved down to 900 pounds.

“The other dugout, carved from a 28-foot-long western red cedar, weighs 750 pounds.”

The 25- and 14-foot-long birch bark canoes were built in traditional fashion, without power tools, nails, screws or glue, Wicks-Arshack said.

The organization is offering free canoe outings during its Washougal stop as part of its mission as an environmental education program.

“We provide paddles and life jackets,” Wicks-Arshack said.

They plan to be at Captain William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Wicks-Arshack said.

The Port of Camas-Washougal will serve as an alternate site, if required.

The Voyages of Rediscovery group plans to reach Astoria, Ore., on July 11, after about two weeks on the river.

Longer journey

The other David Thompson tribute group has mapped out a 1,040-mile, six-week voyage. That expedition was scheduled to arrive Tuesday at Vantage.

The two groups collaborated earlier this month.

“We met them at Kettle Falls,” Wicks-Arshack said.

Local residents were able to get rides in the Rediscovery canoes and paddle along with the David Thompson Brigade.

Thompson was 14 when he was apprenticed to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1784. He eventually joined the rival North West Company.

Thompson’s maps of the region were so accurate that they were the basis for maps issued by governments and railroad companies during the 20th century, biographer Jack Nisbet said.