Lewis and Clark park job's an adventure

LONGVIEW, Wash. — Scott Tucker hadn't been to Fort Clatsop when he applied to be superintendent of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, but you could say he's been headed to the historic winter encampment since his junior year in college.

Tucker, who took over in July, is now in charge of several Lewis and Clark sites along the Columbia River and the Pacific Coast. He said he's loved getting to know both the park and the area in the past two months and makes a point to walk at least part of the park every day, sometimes in his National Park Service uniform, sometimes as a civilian.

"For me it's the adventure and the unknown," he said about the lure of Lewis and Clark. "It's about putting yourself in their shoes, and in the shoes of the Native communities they encountered, and facing the unknown. ... And I knew this was a story I wanted to be a part of."

Like Lewis and Clark, Tucker comes to the park from the White House, or more accurately President's Park surrounding the White House. He managed the park for several years, overseeing the 54 acres of park grounds as well as special events, including lightings of the National Christmas Tree and the annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House. There, he said, it was more about creating "snapshot moments" for visitors who make a quick stop before taking in several other D.C. sites.

Trips to the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, though, are a different experience.

"This is a destination visit," Tucker said, noting visitors take in exhibits, stroll through the restored cabin sites and hike trails at the park. "People come for several hours and make a day of it."

Tucker, 39, grew up visiting national parks with his parents and said a trip during his junior year in college to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado convinced him to change his major from teaching to social science.

"I decided I wanted to teach in the parks," he said.

His first job was at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, Alaska, and Tucker said he knew then he wanted to work at smaller, community-based parks rather than the large tourist meccas such as Yellowstone or Yosemite. He said he likes the connections smaller parks can make with the surrounding community.

After Alaska he worked at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian and later at the White House.

Tucker met his wife in D.C., and says they always knew they wanted to raise their family out west. He jumped at the chance for his current post, calling it an ideal blend of his interests in parks, history and Native American culture. His wife Josey is able to telecommute to her Government Accounting Office job from the Astoria home they share with their son, 5, and daughter, 2. The new job eliminates the more than three-hour round-trip commute he used to face and gives the whole family more time together, Tucker said.

Tucker visited Fort Clatsop for the first time after he applied for the job, but this isn't his first Lewis and Clark assignment.

In 2003 Tucker was deputy chief of interpretation in a moving exhibit that followed in the expedition's footsteps for the eastern half of the journey as part of the bicentennial celebration. He didn't go all the way to Washington, but Tucker certainly became steeped in Lewis and Clark history.

He said Americans remain fascinated with Lewis and Clark because their journey was such a bold adventure that brought back a wealth of information about the young country's Western boundaries.

"It was a battle of willpower and guts and amazing perseverance," Tucker said. "And it was the Twitter and blogs of its day. They were writing in their journals and capturing this great adventure that you can (now) relive in your living rooms and then retrace."

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