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Tourism may slow, not grind to halt

With fewer than three weeks until the six-week closure of the Hood Canal bridge, North Olympic Peninsula residents, business owners and community activists are busily preparing for the shutdown.

But the word around town is that the closure won't affect

Sequim as much as was originally feared.



The Sequim Irrigation Festival

While attending the Tacoma Daffodil Parade Saturday, April 4, festival chairman Joe Borden took it upon himself to ask fellow float crews about their plans for the upcoming Irrigation Festival May 2-10.

Although the bridge closure won't affect the 2009 Sequim Irrigation Festival royalty's traveling parade schedule, it will make a difference to the floats, tourists, antique car owners and parade participants coming to Sequim from out of town. Festival-goers will have to drive around the canal or take the ferry, depending on where they're coming from.

"Most of the people I've talked to tell me that they are still coming," Borden said.

"I expect that some will change their minds when they realize how much it will cost to come, but we are planning for that and that's one of the reasons we are touting that this needs to be a community event."

In some ways, the bridge closure is a blessing in disguise, helping Irrigation Festival organizers reorganize the annual event into a community-minded affair, Borden said.

Community participation has dwindled over the years, a fact Borden hopes to change.

"Come to the parade. Make a float or form a drill team. It's pretty simple and a lot of fun," he said.

"The first time you walk down the street and look in the eyes of the children, your heart will melt and you'll find yourself doing it for 14 years like I have."

New community-minded events include a family picnic at Carrie Blake Park and a downtown merchants fair.

"The festival belongs to the community," Borden said.

"That's how it started in 1896 and that's how it should continue."



Live

entertainment plentiful

Oasis Sports Bar & Grill, a hot spot for entertainment in Sequim, will continue to feature live music on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays during the bridge closure.

"We knew it was going to happen so we planned ahead and booked local bands and DJs," said co-owner Debbie Seavy.

"It wasn't a problem for us at all."

Seven Cedars Casino will continue having live music six days a week, Sunday-Monday and Wednesday-Saturday.

"The discussion has come up about the bridge closure but we are more focused on our local community anyway," said Paris Mickle, assistant marketing director at the casino.

"While we welcome out-of-towners, we don't go out of our way to attract people from the Puget Sound area."

Upcoming special events include Battle of the Bands May 1-2, a Chris Ward country concert May 10, the Jim Hoffman Band May 17, a celebration of Jimmy Buffet's music May 22, karaoke May 28, and the Stardust Big Band May 31.



Traveling out west



Leah Hornaday, owner of Far West Surf & Skate in Forks, said she expects the bridge closure to affect business but not significantly.

According to Hornaday, the West End gets a lot of traffic traveling from the Seattle area and I-5 corridor using the Hood Canal bridge.

"I'm not really sure how it's all going to pan out; we will just have to wait and see," Hornaday said.

"If people are going to travel out to the coast through Olympia, I expect they will probably hit Westport first."

In her line of work, out-of-town customers are hard to predict anyway, Hornaday said, because there are weeks when there are no significant swells to entice surfers.

"I think a lot of people will just reschedule their trips to the peninsula for after the bridge reopens," Hornaday said.

"If they don't want to reschedule, I encourage them to go the other way and enjoy Kalaloch."



Tourism and the

visitor center

The Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce has been working with chambers from Port Townsend, Port Angeles and Forks, the Clallam Economic Development Council, the Port of Port Angeles and the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission and its members and partners for several months in preparation for the bridge closure.

With the help of the Washington State Department of Transportation, these organizations will make the closure period as hassle-free as possible, said Vickie Maples, Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director.

"We know there will be an impact, but our hope is the folks on the peninsula will rediscover the peninsula and the people visiting will explore and enjoy the alternative routes," Maples said.

While traveling may be most difficult for people who commute regularly using the Hood Canal bridge, Maples said she expects the first couple of weeks to go off without a hitch in Sequim.

"I think that people will be too busy here with the Irrigation Festival to even notice the bridge is closed," she said.

The bridge closure is, Maples reminded, important and necessary.

"It's better to have a planned six-week closure than several unplanned, shorter closures," she said.

"I think that the DOT has worked very hard to accomplish a difficult task with the least amount of hassle."

Travel coupons for visitors and residents are online at www.nobridgenoproblem.com. Business owners can add their own vouchers by e-mailing pat@insideout.com.

Maps with detailed information on alternative routes, ferry schedules and fare-free transit connections are available at the visitor's center, 1192 E. Washington St.; the

Sequim Senior Activity Center, 921 E. Hammond St.; and City Hall, 152 W. Cedar St.

For more information or specific advice, call 877-595-4222.



Reach Ashley Miller at ashleyo@sequimgazette.com.

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