The three-year celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition formally opened Saturday at the home of Thomas Jefferson, the president who set the exploratory mission in motion.
The event at Monticello marked the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's letter, written at the estate outside Charlottesville, asking Congress to appropriate $2,500 to fund the expedition to explore the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase.
"This is where it all started, in the mind of Thomas Jefferson," said Dayton Duncan, co-producer with Ken Burns on the PBS TV series "The West and Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery." "This was mission control."
About 3,000 people attended the event, the first of a series set to span the country over the next three years. Speakers lauded Jefferson's foresight and noted that the expedition's success depended on the help of American Indian tribes who lived in the areas Lewis and Clark explored.
Amy Mossett, co-chairwoman of the Circle of Tribal Advisors to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial and a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, paid tribute to Sacagawea, the Mandan villager who was guide and interpreter to the expedition.
Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said the bicentennial gives Americans "a chance to think like Thomas Jefferson ... to envision what America can become in the future."
It also provides an opportunity to examine the changes wrought by humans in the land the United States acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, said Robert R. Archibald, president of the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.
Americans "can evaluate what has been done well and what has not been done well in the intervening two centuries," Archibald said.