By Don Nelson

In time for the ’49er Days celebration in Winthrop this weekend, the North Cascades Highway was scheduled to be open for traffic starting at noon on Thursday (May 8), according to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

The Silver Star gate on Highway 20 (milepost 171) will swing open Thursday and, if history is any indicator, there will be a line of vehicles waiting to pass through. The pass was closed on Dec. 3, 2013, for the winter.

For the past couple of years, Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe owner Doug Mohre and Winthrop Visitor Information Center hostess Georgia Sanders have greeted the lineup waiting to head west — Mohre to hand out candy, Sanders to promote the town. Mohre said this week that it’s likely he’ll be at the gate on Thursday. Sanders said that if Mohre goes, she’ll hitch a ride.

At the Mazama Store, there is an apparent winner in the annual contest to guess the date the pass opens. But staffer Serena Lockwood said that one of the rules set by the contest’s founder, the late Red McComb, was that the pass has to stay open for at least a week. Other than bracing themselves for west side traffic, the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association’s Sunflower Relay and ’49er Days, the store isn’t doing anything special for the opening, Lockwood said.

Kristen Smith, marketing director for the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, said that the pass opening “is obviously important to everyone, but it may be even more important to ’49er Days.” That’s because a lot of “horse people” who live north of Everett are more likely to make the shorter drive via Highway 20 than to go around by way of U.S. Highway 2, she said.

Smith praised WSDOT for its work in getting the pass open safely in time for this weekend. “And they have been great about allowing bicyclists [on the cleared portion of the highway] … last weekend was fantastic,” she said.

Last year the highway opened on April 16.