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We billed it—will they come?

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Montana has had to wait 30 long months for its turn to bask in glow of the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark’s journey through the American West, but with the summer arrival of Corps of Discovery II, the wait is over.

Montana received the bulk of the National Park Service’s 2005 Challenge Cost Share funds for various Lewis and Clark projects and promotions. Thirty-five Lewis and Clark-related projects bagged $1.5 million in NPS funds, and partners pitched in an additional $8.8 million. According to Sarah Lawlor of Travel Montana, the state’s tourism agency has been using Lewis and Clark imagery and messaging in nationwide consumer advertising since 1997.

The Kansas City Star recently reported that Lewis and Clark tourism is a flop. Reporter Rick Montgomery wrote that ticket orders for the upcoming Under the Big Sky signature event in Great Falls were “dismal.”

“That’s a flat lie,” says Peggie Bourne, executive director of Explore the Big Sky. “It’s hard to project what our final ticket sales will be, but our advance sales are in line with similar events.”

In North Dakota, event organizers are crying foul over the Star article as well.

David Borlaug, president of Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, said the signature event in Bismarck, N.D., drew more than 50,000 visitors over 10 days. In a state that until last year was at the bottom of the tourism barrel, that’s not too shabby.

“There’s never going to be sea of people,” says Borlaug, explaining that the expected flood of tourists was more a slow and steady stream. “You don’t want to see a million people in one place at one time for these events.”

Souvenir shop owners might argue that point, but one thing’s for sure: the tour will wind its way through Montana during the height of the summer tourism season. How many visitors the state will be able to attribute to Lewis and Clark’s coattails remains anyone’s guess.

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