While I was part of the motorized throng inching through the four-way stop in Winthrop this past weekend, a Yogi Berra-ism occurred to me: “Nobody goes there nowadays. It’s too crowded.”
It wasn’t the first time I’ve wondered whether the Methow Valley’s enduring popularity with all kinds of summer visitors might have some kind of ricochet effect. Will all those people continue to believe it’s worthwhile to comingle with all those other people?
We’re barely 70 words into this column, and already I can sense Kristen Smith’s alarm. As marketing director for the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, it’s Kristen’s job to promote the area’s extraordinary attractions and compelling events — and she’s great at it. So let me assure her and everyone else: I love the visitors and I want them to keep coming. I’m grateful for a fire-free summer after two years of disruption.
The stream of traffic from one end of the valley to the other — the RVs, the SUVs, the big pickups towing big travel trailers or boats, the flocks of motorcyclists, and plain old passenger cars — is our economic life blood. I don’t mind the few extra minutes it takes to get through town, or to buy gas, or pull out of a parking lot onto the highway, or wend my way to a cash register. We urge visitors to slow down and enjoy the place, and that’s applicable to residents as well.
The “no vacancy” signs are definitive indicators of how the valley is doing on any summer weekend. I make a point of asking every clerk or businessperson I encounter how it’s going, just to get a sense of the vibe.
Of course I could have taken the locals’ secret bypass along Castle Avenue to avoid the worst of the downtown traffic glut last weekend, but I thought I should experience it like a typical tourist. Idling in place at the four-way, I looked up — and it was a ways up — from my rig to the driver’s-side window of a massive RV, with Canadian license plates, towing a nice boat and tentatively maneuvering through the four-way stop on Sunday. The driver’s strained expression suggested he was not having a good time, and I wondered if he knew where to park for walking access to downtown Winthrop, or had a campsite reserved, or had concluded that he was inadvertently directed to a clogged metropolis.
And that was just one of several dozen vehicles taking their turn at the intersection in that few minutes. Many of them were surely on their way through to elsewhere, but perhaps some of them were hoping to park and walk around for a while and ended up frustrated. Riverside Avenue’s options are limited, which leads to what could charitably be called improvisational parking along the road between the Hotel Rio Vista and the Methow River bridge.
The periodic traffic concentrations in Twisp and Winthrop are somewhat misleading, because ultimately the visitors end up spread out from Pateros to Mazama, taking advantage of our wide range of recreational opportunities. You can be as un-crowded as you like with just a bit of effort, or make new friends in the ever-changing neighborhoods that our trails, campgrounds and lodging establishments create.
So why is Yogi’s malapropism nagging at me? Part of it, I think, is that I really want everyone who visits the Methow Valley to have a great time, remember it fondly, come back over and over, and rave about it to everyone they know. God knows I do. Anything that makes people think about going someplace else — and there a plenty of options — could be a problem if not acknowledged and addressed. That’s a point Kristen Smith makes all the time, and I share her perspective.
In a few weeks, when we have the shoulder season mostly to ourselves while gearing up for winter, we probably won’t be thinking about summer. Maybe that’s when we should, because as Yogi said, “the future ain’t what it used to be.”