With Oktoberfest about to start, Leavenworth has a message: There's no more smoke from the wildfires.
Tourists, Leavenworth has missed you.
Its cash registers at restaurants and shops have missed you. This little bit of Bavaria, population 2,000, depends on the 1 million people who annually visit it.
But the wildfires have been horrible for business through much of September as the air-quality reports for the region contained such descriptions as “unhealthy,” “very unhealthy” and “hazardous.”
With Oktoberfest starting Friday night, the good people in Leavenworth have a message: There’s no more smoke.
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Don’t you want to help consume the 17,000 gallons of beer that’ll be served this weekend, and the following two weekends of the festival? “It’s absolutely beautiful. Green trees, blue skies, not a single cloud,” says Nancy Smith, director of the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce, as she described what she’s seeing out her office window Thursday afternoon.
The trouble began Sept. 8 when lightning strikes started nearly 100 individual fires. The Wenatchee Fire Complex burned more than 56,000 acres. According to InciWeb, a site run by federal and state agencies, as of Thursday the fire was 60 percent contained and now is in the “mop up, rehabilitation and patrol of fires” stage.
Smith says that for its Autumn Leaf Festival held last weekend, merchants reported business was down 30 percent, which she says translates to about $100,000.
In recent days, the air-quality readings for Leavenworth have been in the “good” category because of “scouring” winds, says Jay Carmony, a smoke-management specialist with the state’s Department of Ecology. It also was upwind from the fires and so was hit less by the smoke.
To bring back tourists, the chamber is running $10,000 worth of commercials broadcast by Seattle-area radio stations:
“Willkommen! We are not sure what you have been hearing on TV lately but in Leavenworth, Washington’s Bavarian gateway, the festivals and festivities are all marching forward … the brats are on the grills, the beer is cold, and it’s time to put a little oompa in your life. … “
The message may be helping.
At the 105-room Enzian Inn, there are no vacancies this weekend, and it’s looking “real strong” the following weekends, says general manager Jordan Brown.
At Café Mozart, owner and chef Richard Zucktriegel says he hopes the tourists decide to take a weekend drive across the Cascades. He counts on the October business because “after November, it’s pretty dead.”
Says the chef: “We got a lot of bad rap from TV crews coming during the worst days of the fire. And it wasn’t even close to town.”
It was Wenatchee, 24 miles southeast of Leavenworth, that got the worst of the fires, and experienced considerably worse air quality.
The air quality was labeled as “hazardous,” for almost half of September, meaning that “everyone should try to stay indoors.” The worst day was Sept. 14, in which air quality was eight times higher than the “hazardous” threshold.
People acted as if they were snowed-in, says Linda Haglund, head of the Wenatchee Downtown Association.
She says that when she surveyed members, they reported business in September was down 20 to 40 percent.
In talking to businesses, she says, “In the last few days, things are more back to normal.”
Says Haglund: “I’ve lived here my whole life. Here is the thing about living here. What makes this one of the most beautiful places is that we’re surrounded by mountains.”
But it is those mountains that create the atmospheric conditions that trap the smoke from wildfires.
“Thank God it doesn’t happen very often,” she says.
Predictions as to how long the smoke will linger are, well, hard to predict, says Carmony.
What would really help clear the smoke is a “season-ending event,” he says.
Like lots of rain. Carmony says the earliest chances of rain would be around Oct. 12.
Until that happens, he expects Wenatchee will have “poor air quality from time to time, and Leavenworth less so.”
Meanwhile, the shows go on.
In East Wenatchee, this weekend’s Wings & Wheels show featuring classic cars and airplane rides, has some 90 cars registered, when last year, 240 registered, says Dan White, events coordinator for the city.
He’s been sending out mailers to last year’s participants, hoping they will come.
“Blue skies and sun,” says White about looking out his office window, repeating the mantra he hopes will sway those tourists.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org