I'm excited to share all about one of my favorite places to visit in Sioux City with kids! One of Siouxland's big claims to fame is that it served as a major portion of the Corps of Discovery Expedition to find the Northwest Passage. Under the leadership of William Clark and Meriweather Lewis, the Corps followed the Missouri River north from Kansas City and west from Sioux City, exploring much of the Siouxland area along the way in late summer 1804. Their legacy remains not just in parks, monuments, and historical sites where they once trod, but also pervades naming in Sioux City, from the Explorers baseball team, to Clark elementary school, to streets like Lewis Boulevard, Clark Street, York Street, and Floyd Boulevard! And one of the best places to learn more about Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery Expedition is at Sioux City's Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center.
What is the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center?
The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center is one building with a variety of purposes: the northern section is essentially a museum about the Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery Expedition (did you know that's the official name for the Lewis and Clark Expedition?), while the southern section, the Betty Strong Encounter Center, serves as space for cultural and educational events, with a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits. The Center is all on one floor, with a gently sloping floor rather than stairs in the auditorium in the Betty Strong Encounter Center, so all exhibits and programs are fully accessible to people in a wheelchair, stroller, or other mobility aide. The Center also has a research library and many artifacts, like a reproduction of the flower press Lewis used to preserve samples and of his dried flowers and notes that constituted his herbarium--the Expedition brought back 200 botanical samples to share the beauty of the prairie and mountain west with Jeffersonian America!
|reproduction of floral sample in Lewis' herbaria
Where is the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center?
The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center is at 900 Larsen Park Road, along the riverfront of the Missouri River. Larsen Park Road is only available via Hamilton Boulevard as of April 2021, but check before driving as I-29 construction changes the open routes periodically. Once on Chris Larsen Park Road, the center is just a bit east of the Sergeant Floyd Welcome Center, which is immediately recognizable as "the boat museum." Between the two is a playground and a large picnic shelter.
There is a large parking lot with free parking at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and additional free parking between the center and the Sergeant Floyd Welcome Center.
Outside the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center are a subtle stone ampitheatre built into the hill between the two , and a variety of large sculptures of animals the Expedition encountered in their travels, included a bear, foxes, and a bison!
Exhibits at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center
|President Jefferson ready to discuss the Expedition
There are a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits at the center, including:
- Animatronic versions of Captains Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark, President Thomas Jefferson, Sergeant Charles Floyd, and Lewis' Newfoundland dog, Seaman. The newfie is of course the favorite of my preschooler!
|Seaman the Newfoundland examining a prairie dog
- A huge, yet scaled down, reproduction of the Floyd Monument (the real monument, near Sioux City's Morningside neighborhood, is 100 feet tall!)
- Exhibits highlighting the history of the Expedition and the members of the Corps of Discovery, and life in 1804.
- Displays showcasing the culture, traditions, and history of Native American tribes local to Siouxland at the time of the Expedition and today
- A replica keelboat, at about 1:20 scale, like the one the Corps of Discovery took on their expedition. This keelboat exhibit was opened in April 2021.
- A theater which plays historical videos sharing information about the Corps of Discovery
- Annually updated photos of children from the St. Augustine Indian Mission
- Rotating exhibits in the Betty Strong Encounter Center. In winter 2021, the exhibits included wonderful photos from the Sioux City Camera Club in the main gallery and from Yankton photographer Sam Sukel in the south hallway.
|Photo from Sam Stukel's Winter on the Missouri Photo Exhibit
|Sioux City Camera Club exhibit at the Betty Strong Encounter Center
There are also some hands-on displays, including crayon rubbings, and stamping stations for journals for kids. The crayon rubbing stations were back as of April 2021, but the stamping stations were still off off display to help keep everyone healthy. I'll try to update again when they are back out!
Events at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center
Besides its wonderful exhibits, the center is known for its excellent programming, including
- History education events for children, especially during the summer.
- These usually cover topics related to the Expedition, but always with a fun twist, and sometimes are about life more generally at the time for settlers or for Native Americans in our area. Past event topics have included fashion at the time of the Expedition, food eaten by the Corps of Discovery, Native American games, and Lewis' herbarium (collection of dried plants brought back with him for scientific purposes)
- Programs are usually offered for a variety of age groups, with some being open to all ages, and are always full of lots of solid age-appropriate historical education, along with lots of fun and interaction
- A Kids Club, new in 2021, offers even more fun to little history buffs!
- Holiday events for kids, including Christmas ornament and cookie decorating and Easter egg hunts.
- Usually these programs include historical information about how the holiday would have been celebrated (or not) at the time of the Corps of Discovery Expedition
- Musical performances for all ages, usually several Sunday afternoons each month.
- In 2020-2021, these events have been streamed live on Facebook by the center
- Historical lectures for teens and adults (all ages welcome, but the content is at an adult level) on the Sundays that aren't musical performance, usually at least once a month.
- These events have also been streamed on Facebook rather than held live in 2020 and 2021
- Often these lectures and discussions are hosted by professors at local colleges like Morningside, Briar Cliff, Wayne State, and University of South Dakota!
For more information about the Lewis & Clark and Betty Strong Encounter Center
The best way to find out about the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center is of course by visiting when it is open, Monday through Sunday, but you can also find out more about the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center by visiting their website, or by connecting with them on Facebook or Instagram. Or, call the super-friendly museum staff at (712)224-5242!
You may also enjoy my post about Native American historical and cultural education sites in Siouxland!