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Sunday, May 31, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A River Trip Out Of Lewis & Clark Past

AP

WASHINGTON - River conservationists hope to focus Congress' attention on the nation's degraded waterways this week when they set out from Missouri to retrace Lewis and Clark's 4,000-mile trek into the Great Northwest.

Tom Warren, an Oklahoma chiropractor, and John Hilton, a Missouri photographer, plan to enter the Missouri River at St. Louis and arrive at the mouth of the Columbia River six weeks later near Astoria, Ore.

"Lewis and Clark went out to find what was there," says Hilton, of Flat River, Mo. "We're going to see what's left."

It is believed to be the first attempt to duplicate the expedition undertaken in 1804, when President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the Louisiana Purchase and search for a water passage to the Orient.

American Rivers, a nonprofit group, organized the trip to dramatize the pollution, diversions and ecological damage the route has suffered over the past two centuries.

Among the missing will be the bountiful Northwest salmon stocks that so impressed Lewis and Clark during the final leg of their 2 1/2-year journey.

"When Lewis and Clark explored the Columbia and Snake river system, approximately 20 million wild Pacific salmon called this home," says American Rivers spokesman Randy Showstack.

"Now that's been reduced to about 250,000, primarily because of the dams that cause both upstream and downstream problems for the fish. We've had several species listed as endangered, and hundreds more are imperiled."

In addition to hydropower projects, the modern-day explorers will encounter industrial waste and runoff from farm chemicals as they head their 21-foot jet boat up the Missouri River into the Dakotas. As they bicycle over the Rocky Mountains in Montana and canoe into Idaho they'll observe sedimentation and erosion accelerated by logging, mining and other commercial development.

"We want people to draw a correlation between what was there 188 years ago and what's there today," says Warren, from Tulsa, Okla.

"We're going to stand on the site where Lewis and Clark were and read from their diary, like when they says they looked this direction and saw 10,000 buffalo. We'll do a sort of play-by-play - a before and after.

"If we can let people see where things are now, they'll realize it's changing too fast and we've got to slow this down. When species go extinct, you can't recreate them."

The troubled salmon, more than the rivers themselves, are drawing the attention of many members of Congress.

Those from the Pacific Northwest, still embroiled in debate over the northern spotted owl and forest management, are bracing for a similar battle over salmon protection and the cost to irrigators, shippers, fishermen and electrical-utility ratepayers.

The Columbia and Snake top American Rivers' 1992 list of the nation's 10 most endangered waterways. Showstack says they were selected partly because of the American Fisheries Society's recent report on 214 imperiled fish stocks in the Northwest.

In addition to raising environmental consciousness, Warren says he'll be fulfilling a lifelong dream.

"When I was 9 years old growing up in southeast Missouri," he recalls, "I read a book and was just fascinated by the adventure and romance of it all - following the Lewis and Clark trail."

Warren got his first glimpse of the landscape when he went out to train in the $30,000 boat being custom-built for the journey, courtesy of Jetcraft Co. of Medford, Ore.

"When we got to Medford," Warren says, "I couldn't resist going up to see the Columbia. We drove nine hours out of our way to drive one hour along the Columbia."

Lewis and Clark made the trip with 30-foot-long keel boats and two canoes. A crew of 45 men with 10,000 pounds of equipment assisted as they sailed, paddled, poled and portaged the boats across the wilderness.

Warren, 39, and Hilton, 45, will do about three-quarters of the trip in the jet boat. They'll bicycle about 350 miles and canoe between 75 and 300 miles, depending on water levels. Their trip will take them through St. Joseph, Mo.; Omaha, Neb.; Sioux City, Iowa; Pierre, S.D.; Bismarck, N.D.; Great Falls, Mont.; Lewiston, Idaho; Pasco, Wash., and Portland, Ore.

Hilton's son, Johnny, 24, will follow in a van with a trailer to help them get around dams and dry spots, remaining in contact via cellular phone and citizen-band radio. Thirty-nine companies have donated goods for the trip - the van, the boat, bikes, gasoline, camera, fishing and camping equipment - in exchange for publicity.

The toughest part could be the bike ride through Montana's Bitterroot Mountains.

"The first 27 miles are straight uphill," Warren notes. "I'm starting to think we should have talked to Harley-Davidson about that."

Showstack believes that in many ways this trip is as important as the original expedition.

"We can't turn the clocks back," he says, "but there is a lot we can to do to preserve our major river systems."

------------------------------------ YOU CAN FOLLOW BY PHONE

-- Those interested in following the trip can get daily updates by calling 900-I-GO-WEST (900-446-9378) at a charge of $1.95 a minute. The 3- to 5-minute tape-recorded messages will compare what Lewis and Clark witnessed with what Warren and Hilton see. Proceeds will be used to defray costs of the trip.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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