After a tragedy in March tested a town to its limit, summertime – and the tourism it brings – has been a welcome relief for the people of Darrington.
Darrington’s main access road, Highway 530, was reopened to general traffic on May 31, 10 weeks after the Oso mudslide buried a mile-long section of the highway.
In addition to the tragedy of the mudslide, which killed at least 42 people, the closure of Highway 530 isolated the region and forced commuters working west of the slide to make an hours-long detour to get to work each day.
Now that the highway is open, aid groups are trying to help the region by boosting summer tourism to Darrington, which is
seen as a jumping-off point to some of the best outdoor recreation in the state.
Outdoor Research and REI, two outdoor recreation companies based in Seattle, have teamed up with advocacy groups to promote tourism by printing a map of activities around Darrington. A $25,000 grant from the state has been used to refurbish and upgrade the Darrington Timberbowl Rodeo Grounds, where the annual Darrington Timberbowl Rodeo is scheduled for Saturday, June 21.
But the highway goes both ways, so while Washingtonians will be heading to Darrington to get to the mountains all summer long, Darrington schools sent their kids on a field trip to the coast for some fun in the sun at Birch Bay Waterslides last week and the week before – and the fun was on the house.
Iain Buchanan, general manager of Birch Bay Waterslides, said the students from Darrington got a free pass for the day.
“We wanted to show our support for Darrington and the surrounding communities, so we reached out to the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce and they suggested we work with the school district. We invited them all to come out for free,” Buchanan said.
Darrington Elementary School visited the Waterslides on June 5, and the middle school and high school came the following week.
“Darrington used to come up in years past, but with budget cuts they haven’t been able to afford it the last few years,” Buchanan said. “The chaperones and staff said they were very grateful. We just felt like it was a way for us to help the community.”
Marissa Pennington, a junior at Darrington High School, said she had been to Birch Bay Waterslides and tried out the Hydro-Drop – an intimidating waterslide with a 60-foot free-fall – once before. This time, cheering classmates surrounded her as she took the plunge.
“It wasn’t as scary the second time around. It’s fun,” she said.
Students from Darrington High School and Sedro-Woolley packed the pools and slides at Birch Bay Waterslides on June 12, lapping the variety of slides with or without inflatable tubes, braving the Hydro-Drop and the Black Hole, or just lounging in the
“We’ve been having a really good time,” Pennington said.
Birch Bay Waterslides will be open seven days a week starting on Saturday, June 21. For more information, visit birchbaywaterslides.net