The daily Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) reports from the crews clearing the snow off the North Cascades Highway are like nothing we’ve read in years.
The snowpack levels are low, the avalanche chutes are relatively benign, the daily temperatures are moderate and the big machines are clearing pavement at a remarkable clip. Don Becker, head of the Twisp-based WSDOT crew that is working its way westbound, says this year’s winter remnants are the least he has seen in 20 years.
Whereas in the past we’ve kept fingers crossed that the highway would be open in time for ’49er Days traffic in May, this year the roadway will likely have been passable for several weeks by then.
What does that mean for us? Quite possibly a truncated “shoulder season,” as Methow-starved west-siders start showing up earlier than usual. Although there a few ski-able areas left and North Cascade Heli was still taking people into the back country this week, the snow’s retreat starts opening up other recreational opportunities.
By a couple of important benchmarks — hotel/motel taxes, Nordic trail usage and retails sales tax receipts — the valley enjoyed a gangbuster winter. It would be nice to continue the momentum through spring.
Most of you don’t follow such things the same way we in the community news business do, but it’s worth noting that the venerable Wenatchee World, a journalistic stalwart in North Central Washington for more than a century, is about to make a dramatic change.
The family-owned daily paper will switch from afternoon publication to morning delivery on April 1 — and no, that’s not an April Fool’s Day joke, although some folks out there might be inclined to say, “you’ve got to be kidding.”
Most afternoon newspapers in the country have already gone through the conversion to morning publication, for a variety of reasons that have to do with changing marketplace forces. The rapid online evolution of how news coverage is produced, delivered and consumed has been pushing daily papers to the a.m. cycle for decades.
Even given the seeming imperatives of morning distribution, it’s not an easy thing to contemplate, plan for and execute. I say this from professional experience. Several years ago, when I was editor of the Skagit Valley Herald in Mount Vernon, we agonized over the same decision for a long time before deciding that our best long-term interests compelled us to switch from afternoon to morning publication.
In a sense, that was the easy part. We spent the next year preparing for the change, which affected every part of our operation — from advertising sales to the newsroom to the printing plant to our home delivery system.
Most of us had to adjust our work schedules, in some cases dramatically. Morning delivery meant that we would no longer use the delivery boys and girls we relied on to get the paper to readers’ homes. Instead, we had to find contract delivery drivers who would get up at the crack of dawn to complete their routes.
And of course, we had to bring the readers along. We expected resistance, and there was some — but nothing like we had braced ourselves for. The readers were well prepared. We published lots of articles and columns explaining what was coming and why. Ultimately, we lost only a handful of subscribers and the adjustment was less painful than we anticipated.
So I can empathize with the challenges the Wenatchee World team has been tackling. The change also has implications for the Methow Valley News. Because the News is printed at the Wenatchee World, which also delivers bundled papers to us at a drop-off point in Pateros on Wednesdays, their schedule changes may affect our operations as well. We’re not sure what that means for us yet, but we’ll let you know and work hard to ensure that any transitions go smoothly.