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Small Washington towns find niche with tourists

Here is my latest for City Living. This was for the Northwest Destinations issue.

Tourism revitalizes towns that might otherwise struggle

As a gateway to Olympic National Park, the town of Forks, Wash., has usually had visitors ready for an outdoor adventure.

But since 2005, the small timber town of about 3,175 has had people visiting for a whole different reason: vampires and werewolves.

Although they are not real, these supernatural beings have been responsible for bringing a whole new industry to Forks. As the setting for Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” book series, Forks has become a popular destination for the series’ fans, also known as “Twi-hards.”

“We are so remote the nearest stoplight is one hour away,” said Forks Chamber of Commerce director Marcia Bingham. “We are on the map because of [Meyer[. She’s done amazing things for us.”

With more people choosing to stay home and save money during the current economic recession, small towns are struggling to find ways to bring in visitors and tourists.

So when visitors began showing up in Forks interested in all things “Twilight,” the town’s chamber made a conscious decision to tap into the series’ popularity. They created a map of Forks, highlighting locations mentioned in the books, businesses have put up signs advertising whether characters have visited and the local hospital even has a parking spot reserved for Dr. Cullen, the lead character Edward Cullen’s adoptive vampire father. People have also opened “Twilight”-related businesses, such as shops and restaurants.

As a result, the town has seen a huge spike in its number of visitors — going from 15,849 in 1997 to 69,675 in 2009. These numbers are based on people who sign the town’s visitor register.

“We are in a boom,” Bingham said. “We have more attention here than we ever had. It’s a gift.”

To read the rest of the article, click here.

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