End of the Trail

The Interpretive Center brings Oregon’s pioneers to life

By: Jamie Wetherbe

A group of grade school children all moaned, “Ew!” in unison upon learning what buffalo chips are really made of (dried buffalo dung). And the girls in the group made the same noise when the tour guide explained that the marrying age for pioneer women was as young as 10. Clearly the target audience was entertained.

The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, just outside Portland, hosts some 14,000 schoolchildren a year, telling the history of those who made the 2,000-mile trek west along Oregon Trail in search of land and a better life.

While Oregon is known to tourists as an eco-destination, the state is also promoting its past as the famed Oregon Trail ended here. And clients looking for a lesson (especially those with kids in tow) might want to spend a couple of hours exploring the Interpretive Center.

Beginning in the 1840s more than 300,000 people began their Oregon Trail journey. Along with exhibiting artifacts and heirlooms from the trail and pioneer life, the center also shows “Bound for Oregon,” a half-hour original movie meant to bring history to life using the words and experiences of those who made the trek in fact, much of the film’s dialogue is pulled directly from journals pioneers kept.

This digital-cinema experience, unique to the center, is narrated by the “virtual” character Dr. John McLoughlin, who did indeed, help pioneers. In hologram-like form, McLoughlin tells the tales the of four real-life pioneers, including a Native American and a young girl who recalls how one sibling was buried and another was born within a small stretch of her family’s journey.

The show also includes a few moments of shocking flashes meant to simulate a storm. Clients sensitive to light or those with certain health problems might want to sit this one out.

The Interpretive Center also offers a set made to look like a depot where pioneers would shop for supplies before their travels complete with common quantities and prices. The Willamette Trades & Craft Workshop features hands-on activities, where kids can pack a wagon with supplies. For those who would like to take a piece of history home, the gift shop sells a variety of heritage items and Northwest handcrafts.

The Interpretive Center is open Monday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., and a schedule of activities and tours can be found online. Admission is $9 for adults, $5 for children ages 5 to 17 and free for children under 5.