Twilight fans still flock to Forks

Last week I had good weather – and the good fortune – to spend a few days on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Most of my activities centered in and around Forks – a tiny town with a deep connection to the forest and a fresh new identity as the theoretical setting for the Twilight series of vampire-romance books and films.

I must admit I’m not a big vampire fan. But I am a big fan of the folks in Forks who have embraced the Twilight craze and rolled out a witty welcome mat for fans.

Here’s the piece I wrote about my Twilight visit to Forks for msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin:

With her daughter and two granddaughters in tow, JoAnne Clarke raced inside the visitor center in Forks, Wash., to grab a map for the town’s self-guided “Twilight” tour. Next came pictures taken with the cardboard cutouts of Edward, Bella and Jacob — characters made famous by the vampire-themed romance books written by Stephenie Meyer and the film adaptations.

“Nope, not interested,” said Tom Clarke of Puyallup, Wash., arms crossed, refusing to go inside. “Just came along so I can spend time with my grandchildren.”

“Typical ‘Twilight’ couple,” said Marcia Bingham, director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce, describing the Clarkes.

It’s a scene that has played out countless times in this tiny community in western Washington state — ever since Meyer picked Forks and the rain-drenched forest of Olympic National Park as the setting for her books. Since 2006, Forks officials have counted more than 100,000 signatures in the register at the visitor center. “And that doesn’t count all the fans who come to town but don’t stop here for a map,” said Mike Gurling, manager of the visitor information center.

Visitor statistics for 2011 are running a bit behind 2010, but Gurling said the town expects another “Twilight” uptick when the next movie in the series comes out, sometime in November.

Neither the books nor the films feature actual places or people from the area. However, more than 73,000 fans visited in 2010 to have a look around. The former down-on-its-luck logging town has seen a surge in tourism-related jobs and motel and sales tax income due to the “Twilight” craze, so local residents and shop owners are happy to play along.

For example, a local pizza joint serves up “Bellalasagne,” the pharmacy sells “Fang Floss” and there’s a parking spot at the Forks Community Hospital reserved for the fictional Dr. Cullen.

The “Twilight” tour map, handed out at the visitor center, leads fans to the Swan House, the Cullen House, Forks Outfitters, City Hall and the police station — all stand-ins for locations Meyer mentions or invented for the book.

Unfortunately for fans like Sandra Buff of Cologne, Germany, one popular stop on the tour, Forks High School, no longer exists.

Courtesy Mike Gurling

The 1925 building was knocked down in mid-June to make room for a new, more modern school, and efforts to raise funds to save the facade of the building failed. The school sign is still there, though, just north of the new school construction site.

Forks High School sign, courtesy Mike Gurling

“I wanted to see all the important places: the hospital, the houses and the school. But this won’t ruin my trip,” said Buff, who did get her picture taken with the cardboard Edward outside the visitor center, right next to Bella’s red truck.