Auto-tourists rejoice: The scenic North Cascades Highway reopened to traffic Wednesday afternoon.

Vehicles started showing up around 7 a.m. By opening time six hours later, 77 cars were in line, Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson Mike Allende said. The weather was clear and people seemed to enjoy themselves, he said.

WSDOT tweeted Tuesday morning that crews were finishing up the final repairs on the road.

The North Cascades Highway closes annually in late fall or winter for the safety of drivers and maintenance crews. Last year Highway 20 closed on Nov. 16.

In previous years, the highway’s opening had been fondly associated with Ethel Madrene Clark, or “Tootsie,” who would be the first at the gate to pass out coffee and cinnamon rolls crusted with caramelized sugar and drizzled with whiskey sauce.

The tradition had been in place since 1970 until shortly before she passed away in 2018, her son Donald Clark said. “The DOT thought so much of her that they allowed her to be the first in line and push the gate open with her hands,” said Clark.

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While “The Queen of the Northern Cascades” is no longer the one serving pastries and pushing open the gates, her legacy remains, Clark said. His niece has continued the cinnamon roll tradition.

She was second in line Wednesday and pushed open the gates holding Tootsie’s jacket, Allende said. There were cinnamon rolls along with cake and coffee.

Ethel Madrene Clark, 95, enjoys one of her famous cinnamon rolls in 2017. Clark, known as “Tootsie,” marked the annual reopening of Highway 20 by passing out pastries and coffee to drivers for decades. She died in 2018. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times, file)
Ethel Madrene Clark, 95, enjoys one of her famous cinnamon rolls in 2017. Clark, known as “Tootsie,” marked the annual reopening of Highway 20 by passing out pastries and coffee to drivers for decades. She died in 2018. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times, file)

In a typical year, the restaurant at the Glacier Peak Resort serves the same cinnamon rolls on the day the highway opens. The Clarks used to own and operate the restaurant, near Marblemount.

But this year, the business had trouble finding enough staff, said Bobbie Moore, Glacier Peak Resort office assistant. The restaurant, along with the resort’s cabin and RV spots, will open next week. Its winery will resume operations a week later, she said.

Moore said people have called to make reservations and she is hopeful business will be better this year with declining COVID-19 cases and increased vaccination rates.

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“We had so many cancellations [last year], we didn’t know what to do with them all,” she said.

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According to WSDOT, east- and west-side crews met April 29 to clear the entire length of Highway 20. The crews repaired damage to signs, guardrails and pavement caused by snow and debris.

The clearing started at Early Winters gate on April 5 and typically takes four to six weeks, according to WSDOT.

“There’s a real sense of pride in what those workers have done in that period of time to get things open for everyone,” Allende said.