NEW TOWN Hundreds or more people have been cruising Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River and seeing the surrounding scenery since the Three Affiliated Tribes' yacht began giving cruises in July, tribal officials say.
The yacht is owned by the tribes and operated by its 4 Bears Casino and Lodge, west of New Town. It is the only casino in the state with such a boat, said Tex Hall, tribal chairman. Another large riverboat, the Lewis & Clark, operates on the Missouri River at Bismarck.
Cruises on the 149-passenger, 96-foot-long, two-level yacht go out Thursday through Sunday at 1 and 6 p.m. from a dock near the 4 Bears Marina, west of New Town.
Passengers go on a nearly seven-mile trip to Skunk Creek Bay, a Lake Sakakawea bay in the Mandaree area, and then return to the marina.
Damon Kennedy, yacht captain, and crew from Wisconsin were contracted by the tribes to operate the yacht this summer.
Glenda Baker Embry, tribal public information officer, said of the cruise she took July 3 "It's just beautiful." That trip was the yacht's maiden voyage.
She said the trip on the yacht gives people a view including of the river/lake and its edge, the land and the different types of trees. "It's wild and beautiful," she said.
"It's so peaceful. You just cruise along. It's just a different experience," she added.
The yacht was christened a name that ties in with the historic Lewis and Clark expedition. On July 3, tribal officials christened the boat the Sacajawea, in honor of the young Indian woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their way to the Pacific Ocean.
Hall said the yacht will provide another option for casino customers. Gaming will be added to the yacht operation next year.
Earlier this year the Three Affiliated Tribes' Class III Tribal-State Gaming Compact was amended. It expanded Class III gaming on tribal trust lands and waters within the exterior boundaries of the reservation and allow the tribes to conduct gaming on Lake Sakakawea.
Embry said the tribes are scheduled to get a new yacht that will be set up for gaming and will operate next season.
The Lewis & Clark Riverboat, a boat on the Missouri River at Bismarck, has been operating there for a number of years.
Darrell Dorgan, of Bismarck, along with three others had the Lewis & Clark built and brought to the historic Port of Bismarck in 1991. The boat can handle up to 150 passengers and they ran up to four cruises a day including evening dinner cruises. They also had gaming on-board when requested, Dorgan said.
Dorgan bought out the partners in 2005. The Lewis & Clark, carrying about 25,000 passengers a year, was named North Dakota's Tourist Attraction of the Year in 2006, Dorgan said. He sold it to the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation in 2010 and it's still operating today.
The tribal yacht is expected to continue to operate this year as long as the weather and lake conditions are favorable.
Cruises on the tribal yacht are free this summer to those who are members of the casino's Players' Club. People also can book the yacht for private parties, meetings and other special events. Information about the cruises can be obtained by calling 4 Bears Casino & Lodge.