Caraleigh Hernandez (left), 10, and her sister, Denelle, 14, play on the beach at Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey Island. (Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News-Times)

Caraleigh Hernandez (left), 10, and her sister, Denelle, 14, play on the beach at Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey Island. (Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News-Times)

Whidbey sees an influx of tourists — almost as many as in 2019

Ferry passenger volume indicates a rebound in the island’s popularity as a destination.

Although Whidbey Island tourism hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, it is getting close.

Washington State Ferries reported that the Mukilteo-Clinton route carried 62,239 riders over Memorial Day weekend this year, from from May 27-31. There were 66,895 ferry riders over Memorial Day weekend in 2019, before the pandemic.

The Coupeville-Port Townsend route, which has yet to return to two-boat service, saw 11,159 riders this Memorial Day weekend. There were 17,575 riders during the same period in 2019.

Deception Pass State Park collected increased revenue from camping reservations and sales at the main gate. This year the park brought in $78,218 in revenue for the week leading up to Memorial Day, while the same week in 2019 brought in $64,731.

Deception Pass is consistently the most-visited state park in Washington and was 33% busier over Memorial Day weekend than Cape Disappointment State Park, according to park manager Jason Armstrong.

Part of that is likely due to a computer glitch that released all of the camping sites at once instead of in stages, he explained.

Now almost all of the campsites are reserved through peak season, he said.

The pandemic had a positive impact on the number of visitors at the state park last year, but Armstrong said he didn’t think numbers would go up even further.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s consistent with last year,” he said of visitor numbers. “There are only so many spaces in the park where you can put cars.”

Increases in traffic and wait times at restaurants become an issue across the island during the summer, but Langley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Inge Morascini said that tourism is a large part of the local economy.

She agreed that staffing continues to be an issue but said she thought it would balance out over the summer.

There is also an imbalance of housing on the island, Morascini said, but she didn’t think it was solely due to tourism.

Morascini noted that another impact from the pandemic is that hotels have reported guests are staying longer than usual. She suggested it is likely tied to remote work.

Sherrye Wyatt of Whidbey and Camano Islands Tourism asked for patience.

“Everyone is still processing how comfortable they are with the increased level of visitors,” she said in an email, referencing the ongoing pandemic. “It is understandable why people want to be on our beautiful islands and get quickly into nature.”

Wyatt said she is looking forward to when the island can welcome back international tourists, too, but it is likely not going to happen for a while.

“That is OK, we are still ramping up our infrastructure and it is going to take time.”

This story originally was published by the South Whidbey Record, a sibling of The Daily Herald.

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