What a difference a few months make. I keep reading with fascination how Forks, Washington, has become a tourist destination, filled with young, mostly female fans of the “Twilight” novels. The wildly popular vampire-themed young-adult novels, filled with teen angst and romance, were written by Stephenie Meyer. Of course the Hollywood films have followed.
Wessel and I stayed in this rather dreary and depressed (at least then) logging town of about 3,200 people in April 2008, just before the “Twilight” boom. Forks is the closest town to the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, a moody, rainy, green, wet place of stunning beauty. We were there to interview and photograph Gordon Hempton, of “Once Square Inch of Silence” fame.
With Forks being so close to this well-visited park and also near Olympic Park’s ocean site, Rialto Beach, I was very surprised the town hadn’t embraced tourism. Instead, it was living, or perhaps dying, on its lumbering past.
That’s not to say we didn’t appreciate the place. It was small-town Pacific Northwest at its best. Pickup trucks, down-home restaurants, and unpretentious people. Now the streets are filled with visitors from around the world, to see where fictional characters did imaginary things. We stayed at the simple but fine Forks Motel and crossed the street morning and night for basic grub at The In Place.
But then “Twilight” settled in on Forks. Stephenie, who almost named her book “Forks,” has this to say on her website about locating the series there:
“For my setting, I knew I needed someplace ridiculously rainy. I turned to Google, as I do for all my research needs, and looked for the place with the most rainfall in the U.S. This turned out to be the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I pulled up maps of the area and studied them, looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest…. And there, right where I wanted it to be, was a tiny town called ‘Forks.’ It couldn’t have been more perfect if I had named it myself.”
During her research, she also discovered La Push Reservation, home to the Quileute Nation, an American-Indian tribe settled there. We visited that also-depressed area when we went to La Push beach to interview Gordon while he body surfed. (You pay the reservation to park at the beach.) I’m pleased to hear the tribe is thoughtfully dealing with the Twilight publicity instead of changing itself for its 15 minutes of fame, though who knows how that story will unfold.
Forks, on the other hand, has totally embraced all things having to do with Bella, Jacob and Edward. Well, good for them, as well. Get it while the gettin’s good. In a town that had no, I mean no, trace of “Twilight” in April 2008, only four months later had “Twilight” tours, themed dinner specials, themed hotel rooms, T-shirts, and more. Now there’s even a store, Dazzled by Twilight, that arranges tours, sells mugs, magnets, and so much more. And a film documenting the town, called “Twilight in Forks,” is due out March 10.
I’m very thankful we visited before the transformation, but I’m not begrudging Forks its fame. Still, I hope it will later turn to eco-friendly travel pursuits when the fairy dust wears off, for what’s really magical here are the forest and sea, not an imaginary vampire tale.