Fort is free; activities abound

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Visitors who walk through the gates of Fort Vancouver in the next few days will get a free introduction to an 84 million-acre park system.

The Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is among 397 national parks offering free admission through April 29.

National Park Week will offer a free showcase for some of America’s most beautiful scenery and historic places. And Fort Vancouver -- the first national historic site west of the Mississippi River -- is a good place to give it a try, Ranger Cassie Anderson said

“We’re such an accessible park,” Anderson said. “There are 84 million acres in the National Park Service and a lot of it is far from cities. It’s wonderful that Fort Vancouver is in the heart of the community, so people can try out a national park and learn our park story -- for free.”

Today has the most activities scheduled, including the annual Nez Perce Chief Redheart memorial ceremony at 10 a.m. After the ceremony, the public will be invited to a traditional meal prepared by the Northwest Indian Veterans Association. It will be served in the picnic shelter directly behind the visitor center at 1501 E. Evergreen Blvd.

Junior Ranger Day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, will give children a chance to work on a booklet featuring archaeology puzzles, resource arithmetic and cultural activities. Children can earn a badge any time of the year, but rangers and volunteers will be stationed around Fort Vancouver, 1001 E. Fifth St., to help them work on the booklet.

On April 28, costumed re-enactors will be at work in the kitchen, carpentry shop and counting house. The fort’s youngest volunteers also will be in costume, and visitors “can see what life was like for kids” during the Hudson’s Bay era, Anderson said.

The fort and visitor center are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.