‘Twilighters’ Put Small Town In The Spotlight
“TWILIGHT” mania has made each of the four Stephenie Meyer books about a romance between an accident-prone teenager, Bella, and a dazzlingly handsome vampire named Edward into a best seller; created heartthrobs out of the little-known actors Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, who starred in the first movie in the series; and made the second movie, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” perhaps the most anticipated film of the fall season among tweens and Hollywood moguls alike.
It has also turned Forks, Wash., a two-stoplight town on the western end of the Olympic Peninsula that Mrs. Meyer used as the setting for her books, into an unlikely tourist hot spot.
Over the last year or so, Forks (population 3,120) has morphed into a mecca for Twilighters, or Twihards as they are sometimes called. Visitors to this rainy town, whose main industries are logging and two correctional facilities, have more than tripled for the first eight months of this year, compared with the same period last year, according to the local Chamber of Commerce. Lodging occupancy is up, and local merchants sell little-vampire pacifiers and Bella and Edward action figures.
“You used to say you were from Forks and people would stare,” said Marcia Bingham, director of the Chamber of Commerce, referring to the “B.T.” (“Before ‘Twilight’ ”) days. “Now when they hear where you’re from, they’re breathless.”
And teenage girls aren’t the only ones hyperventilating. Women — traveling in packs, in pairs or on their own — make up a big part of those on the “Twilight” trail. Susan Englin, a retiree from Colbert, Wash., who has read the books seven times and has downloaded the movie to her iPod, was visiting stepchildren in the area recently and couldn’t resist an outing to Forks. “I get caught up in the characters,” she said.
All day long, cars pull up to the Forks visitor center, across the street from a drag-racing track, and people pile out, snapping photos of “Bella’s” old red pickup truck parked in front. Inside, tourists grab maps pinpointing Forks High School, where Bella and Edward first lock eyes in the cafeteria; City Hall, where Bella’s police-chief father works; and the driftwood-strewn beach in nearby La Push where the character Jacob, a member of the local Quileute tribe, first informs Bella that Edward and his family are “blood drinkers.” (He should talk — in the second book Jacob and his pals turn into werewolves.)
And then they’re off, braking at the sites and trolling the nondescript main drag, lined with one- and two-story buildings occupied by shops with signs shouting “Twilighters Welcome!”
“Twilight” groupies also beat a path to Portland, Ore., where the first “Twilight” movie was filmed, and to Vancouver, British Columbia, where “New Moon,” due to be released Nov. 20, was shot and the third movie, based on “Eclipse,” is wrapping up, with a release date of June 30, 2010.
Port Angeles, Wash., a waterfront town northeast of Forks that is mentioned in the books, is another magnet. Neil Conklin, the owner of Bella Italia, which bills itself as the restaurant where Edward and Bella have their first date, says the place has sold 4,500 $17 bowls of mushroom ravioli this year, which is what Bella orders after Edward rescues her from some local hoods (he, of course, isn’t into solid foods), and the Port Book and News estimates that its business has increased as much as 20 percent, even though Bella never sets foot in the store, saying “it wasn’t what I was looking for.”
Vampire seekers also venture into the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park to experience lush moss-draped woods of the sort that Bella and Edward wander in, helping boost park visitation 7 percent this year. “We can tell who they are by their T-shirts,” said Kate Lilly, a park ranger.
But for most fans, the must-see is Forks — a place the author of the “Twilight” series had never actually been to before spinning her first tale in 2003. A Mormon mother of three who lives in Cave Creek, Ariz., Mrs. Meyer had been casting about for a murky setting for her story so that the sun-phobic vampires she envisioned could go out during the day. When her Google search for a rainy place turned up the Olympic Peninsula, Mrs. Meyer studied maps of the area — “looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest,” she explains on her Web site, stepheniemeyer.com — and stumbled upon Forks.
Although she checked out online photos of the otherworldly Hoh Rain Forest, she conjured up the buildings described in her novels from her imagination, and by the time she finally made it to Forks, in 2004, the first installment was complete, according to Elizabeth Eulberg, a publicist for the series’ publisher, Little, Brown. “Twilight” came out in 2005, and altogether the books in the series, including the fourth, “Breaking Dawn,” have sold 70 million copies worldwide.
Twilighters started to show up in Forks in 2006. Annette Root, a Vancouver social worker on maternity leave in 2008, came to town “looking for a ‘Twilight’ presence,” she said, and stayed on to open a souvenir shop named Dazzled by Twilight. Now her Forks empire includes a flagship store featuring floor-to-ceiling rain forest “trees” growing out of an Astroturf-covered floor; a second-floor lounge down the street where “Twilight”-themed events take place; and a storefront “depot” from which a black shuttle van departs up to four times a day on two-to-three-hour tours.
The microphone-toting guide, Travis Belles, who previously led tours of movie-star mansions in Beverly Hills, maintains a nearly constant patter, tossing out “Twilight” trivia (Stephenie Meyer originally thought to give Rosalie and Jasper the names Carole and Ronald), quizzing passengers (Q: What is Charlie Swan’s driveway made of? A: Brick), and playing music (Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”).
Every stop is a photo op, even if some of the sites are of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink variety. Bella’s and Jacob’s houses, for instance, are simply local residences that in some way resemble the places Mrs. Meyer describes in her books. “We’re trying to walk them through the book as we perceive it,” Ms. Root said.
Other local merchants, some of whom at first raised eyebrows at the town’s vampire- and werewolf-besotted visitors, have gamely gotten into the act. Last September, the Dew Drop Inn Motel turned one of its 22 guestrooms into a Bella Suite, with black curtains and crimson tulle wall swags, and says bookings have been strong for the room, which costs $149 instead of the usual rate of $83.
The Pacific Inn Motel decorated a single “Twilight” guestroom last November, painting the walls black and red and putting up movie posters; it now has six of the theme rooms. “They had really cool ‘Twilight’ towels,” said Emma Hand, 14, who stayed in one of the rooms in August with her brother and parents on a cross-country trek from their home in Falls Church, Va.
Revenue from a local hotel occupancy tax is up 26 percent over last year, according to a Forks City Council member, Bruce Guckenberg, who also manages Sully’s Burgers, home of the pineapple-topped Bella Burger (plastic fangs included).
Charlene Leppell’s longtime flower and gift shop was on the brink of closing until she started printing up “Bella for Prom Queen” T-shirts and applying glitter to red ceramic apples. Now her shop, renamed Twilight Central, is doing so well that “the question isn’t whether I could afford to take a vacation this year,” Ms. Leppell said, “but whether I could take off time from the store.”
Not every enterprise in town has benefited from the influx of tourists. While the visitor center has increased hours and added staff members to accommodate the crowds — as many as 700 people signed the guest book some days this past summer — the Timber Museum, next door, has seen admissions decline, according to Sherrill Fouts, museum manager, saying the logging exhibits might get 30 to 60 visitors a day.
Then, too, many town residents gripe about the increased traffic.
Still, many are praying that the appetite for “Twilight” subs and Bellasagna lasts several more years. At the very least, the craze has put the town, in the shadow of mist-shrouded molar-shaped mountains, on the map for good.
IF YOU GO
Forks is three and a half hours by car from Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle. Travelers can also do as Bella did in the first “Twilight” book, and hop the Kenmore Air shuttle to Port Angeles, then rent a car for the hour-and-15-minute drive on Route 101 southwest to Forks.
A small Seattle-based outfitter, En Route to Adventure, offers a five-day Forks Adventures tour that covers key “Twilight” locations (206-619-5006; www.forksadventures.com). The cost is $1,200 a person. This year’s touring season has ended; the 2010 tour schedule is to be posted next month.
WHERE TO STAY
Dew Drop Inn Motel (100 Fern Hill Road; 360-374-4055; www.dewdropinnmotel.com). The Bella Suite is $149, including chocolates and sparkling cider in Champagne glasses.
Pacific Inn Motel (352 South Forks Avenue; 800-235-7344; www.pacificinnmotel.com). Six of its guestrooms have “Twilight” from $139.
Kalaloch Lodge (157151 Highway 101; 866-525-2562; www.visitkalaloch.com). Thirty-five miles south of Forks, this property, on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Olympic National Park, offers a New Moon-Twilight package that includes a night in a log cabin, dessert and Twilight water bottle, from $149.
WHAT TO DO
The Visitor Information Center, operated by the Forks Chamber of Commerce (1411 South Forks Avenue; 800-443-6757; www.forkswa.com), is the place to get a map of “Twilight” sites, try on a white lab coat with “Dr. Cullen” embroidered on the pocket and snap photos of “Bella’s” beat-up Chevy truck, parked out front.
Dazzled by Twilight (61 North Forks Avenue; 360-374-8687; www.dazzledbytwilight.com) tours cost $39 for adults, $25 for children 10 and under, including a meal or snack.
Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park ($15 a vehicle) is an hour’s drive southeast of Forks. From the visitor center, you can set off on meandering fern-edged trails past maple, hemlock, spruce and Douglas fir trees spookily draped in moss. If there’s a vampire hiding anywhere in these parts, you’re going to find him here.
SOURCE: The New York Times – Travel Section (Thanks to Riaz M. for sharing this info! :))