By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News
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An hour-and-a-half after the Forks Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center opened Saturday, the small office was packed with fans from across the world, beginning their pilgrimage to the site of the famed book series, said Mike Gurling, visitor's center manager.
The visitors center opened at 10 a.m., and by 11:30 a.m., the guest book had 52 new signatures from "Twi-hards." Some had come from as far as France and Australia, Gurling said.
"It's just unbelievable," he said, "how many more people know about Forks now than ever before."
Being inundated with fans of the four-book series about vampires and teenage love set in the rain-soaked town is nothing new for the visitors center, which is the main information center for nearby locations that are depicted in the world-famous novels by Stephenie Meyer.
As of October, its guest book contained 18,736 signatures from people -- mostly Twilight fans --this year.
That figure is about five times the town's actual population.
Since "New Moon" premiered Friday -- with midnight showings in Port Angeles and Port Townsend -- the number of people strolling through the Forks visitors center has increased by about 50 percent, Gurling estimated.
Many came after seeing the movie itself in Port Angeles or elsewhere, since Forks does not have its own movie theater, he said.
Even though neither of the two released movies -- "Twilight" and "New Moon" -- has been filmed in Forks or anywhere else in the North Olympic Peninsula, Gurling said that isn't deterring fans from seeking out where the books themselves are set.
And that is not something that is expected to change.
Web site visitors
On Friday alone, the Web site of the visitors center had 54,841 hits -- up from an average of 7,500 a day.
"People are just really interested in Forks and want to get information about that," said Gurling, who added that some are surprised to find that the town actually exists.
"I spent all morning responding to e-mails to people planning trips."
As the fans come from across the world, Forks' media exposure expands.
On Friday, Gurling said a film crew from a German television show was in town, and he has recently done interviews with radio stations in California and Seattle.
Port Angeles -- which is also featured in the Twilight series -- joined in on the excitement surrounding the release of "New Moon" with events downtown Friday and Saturday.
Organized by the Port Angeles Dazzled by Twilight store and Port Angeles Downtown Association, "Bella Luna: A New Moon Celebration," included a scavenger hunt, food cooked by Bella Italia -- including the famed ravioli that fictional character Bella Swan ate on her first date with her vampire suitor, Edward Cullen -- a vampire belly dance show, a gothic ball, among other events.
There were no estimates available as to how many Twilight fans participated.
But on Friday, Bella Italia served more than 50 ravioli dishes to Twilight fans at The Gateway transit center, said volunteer Kim McDougal.
"They say they have to have it," she said of the fans.
Quileute story teller Anita Wheeler was also scheduled as part of the events, but wasn't able to make it.
The Quileutes play a big role in New Moon as people who transform into werewolves in order to protect tribal members from vampires.
On Saturday, tribal members performed traditional dances in LaPush for Twilight fans and others.
The dancers, wearing traditional regalia, posed for photos at the event which also included story telling.
Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at email@example.com.