Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were instrumental in opening up the American West. As leaders of the Corps of Discovery, they not only secured their place in history but pioneered the way for other explorers and settlers of the area.

Emulating its namesakes, the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls is discovering new ways to improve education and tourism in Montana.

“Every year, thousands of people from all over the world visit our interpretive center,” says Elizabeth Moore, Director of Sales & Special Events for the Lewis & Clark Foundation (which provides funding and assistance for the center). “It’s the number one tourist attraction in Central Montana.”

In 1998, the center was established to tell the whole story of the Lewis and Clark expedition, from beginning to end. It was brought to life with the help of local visionaries, and constructed along the Missouri River (near the Great Falls, which Lewis described as “the grandest sight” in 1805 ). The 25,000 square-foot building includes a permanent exhibit hall, 158-seat theater, an education room for hands-on curriculum-based activities, and a gift shop.

“We generate hundreds of thousands of dollars to the community and surrounding area in revenue,” says Moore.

The interpretive center is a major contributor to the local economy, but what’s more is the center’s contributions to education. Throughout the school year, students are bussed in from every corner of Montana to learn about their state’s history.

“The programs we provide to Montana schools vary depending on what the students are studying,” Moore explains.

In fact, some middle school students visit the interpretive center not for history, but for science.

“Students visit different stations and perform different experiments,” says Moore. The grounds around the facility are ideal for field investigations.

Despite all that the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center does for the community, there are Great Falls residents who still haven’t visited
after nearly twenty years of operation. Programs such as Star Party and Voices in the Shadows are one way that the center entices new visitors, while changing exhibits keep locals coming back again and again.

One of the ways the Lewis & Clark Foundation is working to draw interest in Lewis and Clark is through its annual celebration, the Lewis and Clark Festival. This event will take place June 16-18. The celebration will include reenactors, music, and a blackpowder weapons firing exhibition.

“We want to bring attention to this facility while providing education and entertainment to the community,” says Moore.

The Lewis & Cark Interpretive Center is located at 4201 Giant Springs Road in Great Falls. For more information, visit lewisandclarkfoundation.org or call (406) 727-8733.