Operators blaze the Lewis and Clark trail


GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- A number of operators sell commissionable tours that focus on elements of the 19th century Lewis and Clark Expedition. They don't necessarily operate a lot of tours, but they can certainly be focused.

Take Rocky Mountain Discovery Tours in Missoula. Company president Scott Sproull, as a college student in Illinois, first came to Montana while writing a school paper on Lewis and Clark "and never went back."

In fact, he has been a retailer -- selling shoes and leather goods -- for three decades but returned to his hobby in 2000, reviewing his subject, teaching a few classes and leading a few tours.

The tours have since become a full-time occupation. Sproull had three itineraries in 2003 and will operate the same three, and maybe a fourth, itinerary this year.

The trips, operated on coaches or vans, depending on group size, are commissionable at 10%. Other, custom trips, for groups, are priced differently and don't include standard commissions.

Lewis and Clark festival, Billings, Mont.Noting that Lewis-and-Clark-themed trips are a very specialized niche, Sproull said there is "not a lot of demand" and so "it helps to have agents out there pushing for you."

However, he thinks interest in the subject and trips will grow during, and even after, the bicentennial now under way, because so many more Americans will be aware of the possibilities.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition from the mouth of the Missouri River to the Pacific spanned the years 1804 through part of 1806; bicentennial events were scheduled beginning in 2003, as well, to commemorate key milestones in the preparation for the long journey.

Another tour operator, Andy Ambrose, is director of sales and marketing for his family's business, New Orleans-based Stephen Ambrose Tours, named for the family patriarch, the late Stephen Ambrose, historian and author of "Undaunted Courage."

The company emphasizes historical topics (the Civil War and World War II) and so, this year, because of a heavy focus on the 60th anniversary of D-Day, will have only one Lewis and Clark option.

Andy Ambrose said this itinerary is among a number that had been planned by, and at some point, accompanied by the senior Ambrose; all those itineraries, he said, pay 10%. "We've had a good working relationship with agents and that will continue," he predicted.

Another highly focused operation is 4-year-old Odyssey Tours in Lewiston, Idaho, owned by former travel retailer Becky Cawley. The company has operated only Lewis and Clark trips and won't go to new territory until 2005. Odyssey will have two tours this summer and maybe three.

All are accompanied by Lewis and Clark scholar Clay Jenkinson, who is also a Chautauqua actor. Cawley said she saw a future in the Lewis and Clark theme because she grew up along the expedition route, she loves the outdoors (the expedition was a long camping trip, after all) and she had the chance to team up with a Lewis and Clark scholar.

You can reach the journalist who wrote this article at [email protected].

Get More!
For more coverage on the Lewis and Clark bicentennial events, see:
Tracking Lewis and Clark: 2003 is only the start (for a general discussion of activities in Montana)
Region's accommodations include historic properties (for information on accommodations in Montana)
Area retailers to roll out commissionable plans (for information on retailers who are packaging bicentennial events).

Web great resource for Lewis and Clark travel info

he following are resources for selling travel to Montana and for selling travel focused on Lewis and Clark bicentennial events:

Bicentennial information on the Web

• Great Falls (Mont.) Chamber of Commerce

• Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, Omaha

• Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Great Falls

• Montana Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission, Helena

• National Council of the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial, St. Louis

• Travel Montana

Montana housing lists on the Web

• Historic Hotels of the Rockies

• Montana Bed & Breakfast Association

• Montana's Russell Country

Tour sources

• Odyssey Tours, Lewiston, Idaho
Phone: (208) 791-8721
Fax: (208) 798-5101
E-mail:[email protected]

• Rocky Mountain Discovery Tours, Missoula, Mont.
Phone: (888) 400-0048
E-mail:[email protected]

• Stephen Ambrose Tours, New Orleans
Phone: (888) 903-3329
E-mail:[email protected]

• Great Falls Chamber of Commerce, for tours operated by Great Falls retailers

Sample B&Bs

• Collins Mansion B&B, Great Falls
Phone: (406) 452-6798; (877) 452-6798
Fax: (406) 452-6787
E-mail:[email protected]

• Grand Union Hotel, Fort Benton
Phone: (406) 622-1882; (888) 838-1882
Fax: (406) 622-1882
E-mail:[email protected]

• Stone School Inn B&B, Valier
Phone: (406) 279-3796
Fax: (406) 279-3233
E-mail:[email protected]

The preceeding list was compiled by Nadine Godwin.

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