By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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Traffic has become an increasing issue as more than 25,000 visitors come to see the Dungeness Valley’s most famous crop during Sequim Lavender Weekend, which begins Friday and runs through next Sunday.
During last year’s three-day festival, traffic on U.S. Highway 101 increased from the usual daily flow of 44,000 cars to 70,000 at its Saturday peak.
Sunshine farm, just south of Highway 101 about 8 miles east of Sequim, is the first farm lavender lovers see coming from the east toward Sequim and has been a particularly congested spot.
Tourists traveling from the east turn left from the highway onto Guiles Road to visit the farm and then turn left again as they leave the farm to travel to Sequim to the west.
The primary problem, said Sgt. Gaillin Hester with the Port Angeles detachment of the State Patrol, was drivers trying to return to the highway from the farm.
Many would risk wrecks to beat cars and get back onto the busy highway to continue west to other festival activities in Sequim, he said.
“In the past, we have had an issue of long backups there,” Hester said.
For the past two years, State Patrol troopers have directed traffic past the house into Sequim to keep the highway traffic flowing.
“We’re the first farm most people come to,” Montoya said. “We want people to have a good experience. Stopping only to see barricades in front of our farm, that’s not a good experience.”
Montoya and her son, Richard Barnes, have drawn up a plan with state and local officials they hope will allow traffic to stop at their farm without disrupting the highway’s flow, though they say their farm is a small piece of the traffic problem.
“If it’s backed up at our place, it’s an issue” to the transportation officials, Barnes said, pointing out that the city of Sequim also is congested during Sequim Lavender Weekend. “Nowhere else.”
Montoya and Barnes were formerly members of the Sequim Lavender Farmers Association, which sponsors the Sequim Lavender Farm Faire’s festival events and tours of several farms in the area.
The farmers group charges a fee for touring farms in the association.
A separate group, the Sequim Lavender Growers Association, offers free self-guided tours of farms in the group during its Sequim Lavender Festival, the 17th this year, which also includes a street fair.
Montoya and Barnes now are independent, belonging to neither group, and are not charging for tours this year.
They hope that dropping the fee to tour their farm will help alleviate traffic returning to the highway.
Many of those trying to return to the highway from the farm last year, Montoya said, were visitors who balked at the requested $15 cost of admission to visit farms on the Farm Faire circuit.
“We probably saw two-thirds of the cars that came in here turn right around when they saw they had to pay $15 to see the farm,” Montoya said.
She hopes that free admission will encourage visitors to spend more time at the farm and leave at relaxed pace instead of jamming Guiles Road with several cars trying to leave at the same time.
The plan is designed to prevent Sunshine visitors from returning to the highway with a left turn.
“Our goal is to keep traffic moving,” Montoya said, “something to keep everybody happy down the road.”
Barnes created a road through the back of the farm that connects visitors from the western entrance to a driveway on the west. From there, cars will be able to make only right turns onto eastbound 101 before they turn around to travel west.
Drivers will have the option of turning around on Diamond Point Road or looping south around Chicken Coop Road to return to the highway with a left turn at the wider lanes at the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe’s headquarters.
Road crews for the past several weeks have been improving sight lanes on the gravel Chicken Coop Road by trimming trees and smoothing the surface in anticipation of the increased traffic level.
If the farm’s lot is full, Barnes will put up barricades to tell motorists to continue driving west instead of trying to turn into Sunshine.
“We’re trying everything we can to ease the congestion there,” Hester said. “I think what they’ve come up with here will work out well.”
Barnes estimated the farm lost $35,000 in sales from the farm over the past two years because highway traffic was prevented from entering the farm.
Others complained stuck traffic cost them revenue, as well.
“The problem with Sunshine is, everything was stopped,” said Scott Nagel, director of the farmers association.
“All commerce was stopped for the rest of Clallam County over that weekend.”
Members of the farmers group in emails to state transportation officials said the backup at Sunshine hurts other farms to the west as traffic jams keep the lavender crowds out of town.
“Everything backs up, and traffic is slow everywhere, but it’s not stopped,” Nagel said.
Montoya and Barnes, though, say their farm is not entirely to blame.
They point to a pair of drawbridge openings last year that held up traffic on the Hood Canal Bridge for hiking up the volume of lavender traffic.
The city has designated the activities of both the farmers and growers associations as Sequim Lavender Weekend at http://tinyurl.com/lavenderweekend.
The growers association website is www.lavenderfestival.com.
The farmers association website is www.sequimlavenderfarmersassociation.org.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.