Site of the Living Dead

How a logging town turned vampire lit into tourism lifeblood.

By Heather Larson December 8, 2008 Published in the December 2008 issue of Seattle Met

Image: Don Briggs

BEFORE IT BECAME HOME TO UNDEAD HEARTTHROBS, the town of Forks was a hard sell. Caught in the western shadows of the Olympics, the 3,200-person burg averages 12 feet of rain a year (yes, they measure precipitation in feet, not inches) and receives less sunshine than a Seattle well-digger’s armpit. Not exactly a “tourist paradise” as one desperate realtor recently called it. More like a wide spot in the road offering gas and groceries.

But when Arizona author Stephenie Meyer Googled to find the rainiest place in the U.S. and the region surrounding Forks popped up, she decided the climate was perfect for teen vampires and set her book Twilight there. In the 2005 New York Times best-selling novel, 17-year-old Bella Swan leaves her mother and sunny Phoenix to live with her father, the sheriff of Forks. Expecting nothing more than clouds and hicks, she hates the place before she even arrives. But after she meets fellow high-school student Edward, she’s intrigued. Intrigue turns to infatuation, and when she discovers Edward and his family are vampires, her crush doesn’t wane. The book and its three sequels depict Edward and Bella’s impossible love as it twists and turns, and confrontations with creatures who want to do Bella in.

The girl-meets-ghoul tale enjoys an enormous following of preteen girls, including—to the Forks Chamber of Commerce’s unending delight—preteen girls adept at convincing their parents to take them on literary expeditions. Shortly after the first book hit the shelves, fans trickled into the tiny town to see where their favorite characters ate, slept, played, and worked. It took the residents a while to catch on to the bankability of the phenomenon, but once they did, they transformed their sleepy logging hub into some strange hybrid of movie set and souvenir emporium.

The girl-meets-ghoul tale enjoys a readership of preteen girls adept at convincing their parents to take them on literary expeditions.

Entering town on Highway 101 from the south, pilgrims grow goose bumps at the sight of a rusty Chevy pickup with a “Bella” vanity plate on the front. They slake their thirst for Twilight Saga schwag (shirts, books, jewelry, and more) at Forks Outfitters and Leppell’s Flowers and Gifts. The Chamber of Commerce hands out maps of locations where scenes in the books occur. JT’s Sweet Stuffs stocks Dracula teeth, and J & P Produce offers garlic cloves in case the vampires bother you. One man called and said he was thinking about visiting Forks, but he heard they had a vampire problem and wanted to know if it was true.

Bella Burgers grace the menu at Sully’s Drive-In and Three Rivers Resort features an entire “Twilight Menu.” Forks Community Hospital has a reserved parking place for Dr. Cullen, Edward’s father. And because every so often Twilight characters visit nearby Port Angeles, that town cashes in, too: Edward and Bella’s first date is at a gourmet Italian restaurant in Port Angeles called Bella Italia. (Asked if he’s actually read the books, Bella Italia owner Neil Conklin answered, “I read the chapter about my restaurant.”)

The monster makeover is paying off. This past summer Forks’s tourist count swelled by an average of 180 visitors a day. By September, the town banked a 48 percent increase in lodging—tax revenue over the previous year. That same month the community celebrated Stephenie Meyer Day (and Bella’s birthday) on the 13th. Twilight groupies signing the guest log hailed from Texas, New Hampshire, Montana, Florida, Germany, India, and Switzerland.

Forks is a perfect winter weekend destination. Unlike, say, a vacation in Vancouver, BC, where bad weather can kill the fun, a holiday in Forks is made all the better by lousy conditions. The darker the clouds the more Forks feels like the Forks in Meyer’s imagination. The author never set foot in Forks—or Washington State, for that matter—before she started writing the first book. But in the summer of 2004 she flew to Seattle, then took a puddle jumper to Port Angeles and a rental car to her beloved town. She describes the visit on her blog: “Being in Forks was the most incredible experience. There were a few small differences: The logging presence was much more evident than I’d pictured it—the clear-cuts put a bit of a lump in my throat, and the constant, gigantic log haulers barreling down the wet highway made driving a thrilling adventure…. Otherwise, it was eerily similar to my imaginings.”

Burn through that first Twilight book then burn some precious petrol on the three-and-half-hour drive from Seattle along Highway 101, skirting the hoodoo Olympic peaks. Bunk at Miller Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast, where Edward Cullen and his family “live.” On a recent visit the sign on the B & B read: “We gave Bella concert tickets for her birthday and we all decided to join her. The Cullen’s aren’t home, honest.” Slide past Bella’s house, her high school, and the field where Edward plays baseball; and take in eyefuls of picturesque First Beach, where Bella enjoyed an outing with her friends.

When you’ve had your fill of vampires check out Hoh Rain Forest. Snuggly ensconced in the Olympics and clearly haunted, Hoh is regarded the quietest place in the United States, and its mild hiking trails send you on vision quests filled with gorgeous glimpses of old-growth forests. Take the three-quarter-mile jaunt through the Hall of Mosses or the one-and-a-quarter-mile Spruce Nature Trail, a corkscrew path penetrating dense red alder and cottonwoods. Roll back to Forks and feast on Bellasagne at Pacific Pizza, grab a cup of joe at Forks Coffee Shop, and (why not?) curl up and read some Twilight. Just don’t expect a lot of room to spread your limbs.

City planners expect even more guests to their faux-haunted boomtown following last month’s release of the movie adaptation of Twilight, starring Kristen Stewart (Into the Wild) as Bella. But alas, for all the community’s effort, not a single frame of the film was shot in Forks. Instead Portland, Oregon, and the towns of Kalama and Longview, Washington, 200-plus miles to the south, scored screen time—and the moviemaking revenue.