Are campers safe from vampires? Forks courts tourism boom
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Mike Gurling, Forks Visitor Center Manager, talks with the McQueen family of Branson, Mo., concerning Twilight. -- Photo by Lonnie Archibald/Peninsula Daily News

By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

Odd inquiries

THE FORKS VISITOR CENTER staff handles a variety of questions from tourists.

Among them:

• Is it safe to go camping with the vampire problems in the area?

• When do the deer turn into elk?

Peninsula Daily News
FORKS -- Twilight fans making pilgrimages to the setting of their favorite novels have led to jaw-dropping numbers at the Forks Visitor Center, said Marcia Bingham, chamber executive director.

A total of 16,186 people passed through the Visitor Center in July, doubling June's number of 8,702, and in one month nearly reaching the entire year's total for 2008 -- 18,485 people.

"What a gift this has been," Bingham said.

The numbers even surpass the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, which had about 14,000 people pass through in July, said Louann Yager, chamber volunteer coordinator.

In the "old days," as Bingham dubs them, the visitor center in the logging community of Forks primarily focused on teaching people about logging and coordinating tours of the local natural resources.

But these days are all about vampires, werewolves and the phenomenon that is Forks, thanks to the series of four bestselling books written by Stephenie Meyer of Phoenix, Ariz., and at least three movies -- the fourth movie hasn't been officially announced yet -- which recount the tale of a love affair between the very human Bella Swan and vampire Edward Cullen -- all set in Forks.

"We are only doing one logging tour a week," Bingham said. "We used to do three."

"This certainly is nothing like the old days.

"Just thinking about it, my jaw drops."

In addition to the sheer numbers, the guests come with some interesting questions.

Among them, Bingham lists:

• Is it safe to go camping with the vampire problems in the area?

• Where is Port Townsend, and is it anywhere near Forks?

• And Bingham's favorite: When do the deer turn into elk?

Luckily, Bingham said she has trained all the Visitor Center staff and business owners to be "Twilight fluent."

LaPush visitors

LaPush has also seen a boost from the phenomenon.

The Oceanside Resort is often filled, and fans flock to First Beach because a beach in LaPush is described in detail in the books.

"Twilight has brought many people to the Peninsula and LaPush," said Carol Hatch, Quileute tribal chairwoman.

"It is possible that 100,000 visitors each year will visit for the next few years."

So many people have visited LaPush that the tribe hopes to hire a new event planner.

Russ Veenema, executive director of the Port Angeles chamber, said the numbers of visitors to Forks are astounding.

The impact is felt across the North Olympic Peninsula, he added.

"It is somewhat difficult to determine the exact percentage of people who are coming because of Twilight," Veenema said.

"The impact is being felt not only through Forks and Port Angeles, but through the entire Peninsula.

"We feel that the numbers will be up dramatically for July, once they come in."

Veenema said that, like Bingham, he has been working with business owners and employees to learn about the books and movies.

"I encourage everyone, not necessarily to be a Twilight fan, but to at least understand the phenomenon," he said.

"They should encourage their employees to be aware of it, whether or not they think it is a great thing. We need to embrace it and really welcome these folks and make them feel special and happy that they are here."

Business owners have told him that fans are most amazed by the resemblance of the town to the books.

"We are excited that Twilight is happening, and we encourage people to learn more about it," Veenema said.

"The biggest thing we are seeing out of this is that people are amazed that the stuff described in the book is actually here.

"They are enthralled and say that they want to come back."

And that is exactly what Diane Schostak, executive director of the Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau, wants to hear.

'World-class location'

"We always say that people will come here because of Twilight, but they will return because we are a world-class location," she said.

Schostak works with travel writers and tour operators who plan to visit the area.

"I would say that about eight out of 10 travel writers that we work with are looking for Twilight itineraries," she said.

"And also, even if a tour operator or a travel writer is not asking for Twilight, they have to be told about it.

"They wouldn't be credible in their story if they didn't know about this phenomenon."

The bureau sponsored a new Web site for fans to learn more: www.twilightontheolympicpeninsula.com.

"We are also trying to tie into regional events," Schostak said.

"In January, there is a Twilight convention in Seattle, and we have been working with them to make sure they are touring out here, too."

Today, Schostak and members of the North Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission are meeting in Forks to learn more about the phenomenon.

Schostak estimates that with the movies -- the first one came out last November, the next Nov. 20 this year, the next will come out next March and the date for the fourth has not been announced -- the craze will continue for the next four to six years.

"The trailers for the second one have been so good, and the anticipation is almost palpable," she said.

"I think we'll see a nice bump, depending on how the next one goes."

Schostak said that while room tax revenues in most cities in the state are down between 8 percent and 24 percent, most Peninsula cities are faring better.

Motel, hotel tax revenues

Forks revenues through July were up 16.7 percent over last year. Records are from the state, after taxes are received, and run two months behind, so the number actually reflects revenues through May.

Forks officials expect the amount to be higher once the summer's receipts are figured in.

So far this year, Forks has collected about $46,733.44, compared with $40,041.04 collected through July in 2008.

Unincorporated Clallam County revenues were up by 7.7 percent. Through July 2008, $85,479.76 was collected, compared with $92,045.51 during the same period this year.

Sequim was down by 13.2 percent -- $63,889.80 collected through July last year compared with $55,404.50 during the same period this year -- and Port Angeles by 19.6 percent -- with $180,663.76 through July 2008 compared with $145,291.44 during the same period in 2009.

"But we are hearing numbers that many cities are seeing decreases of as much as 25 percent," Veenema said.

"So we'll see how the summer fared for us."

He also added that the Hood Canal Bridge closure in May affected revenues.

Port Townsend receipts were down this year. Through July, the total was $131, 284.18, compared with $141,871.10 through July 2008, a drop of 7.5 percent.

But unincorporated Jefferson County revenues were up slightly, by 1.6 percent, with $132, 513.98 collected through July 2009 compared with $130,355.42 through July 2008.

Although none of the movies were filmed in Forks -- and none of the future ones are likely to be -- Schostak said the important thing is to make sure that Twilight is always associated with Forks.

She said the studio has confirmed that the fourth one would likely not be filmed on the Peninsula either.

Andi Isaacs, executive vice president and head of physical production for Summit Entertainment, wrote in an e-mail to Schostak: "I wish would could shoot in Forks. It really is just a financial issue. We've looked every way we could and can't find a way to make it work. I'm glad the publicity is doing so well for the town."

Schostak said the hotels aren't the only ones to see an impact. Many fans are camping in the Olympic National Park.

"I know that many areas, particularly the Kalaloch, are really filling up with fans," she said.

Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said that May visitation was up by about 17 percent from last year, June was down slightly and July is expected to be up, though she didn't have specific numbers.

"All of the park campgrounds were completely filled up the last two weekends," Maynes said. "That is fairly unusual.

"It is hard to tell how much of that is related to Twilight, because we've also had amazing weather this summer, but we certainly are seeing many fans asking where various events took place and where they should visit in the park."

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 06. 2009 11:07PM
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