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

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

Number of visitors nears pre-pandemic levels

Ferry riders and park visitors have increased.

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

The Mukilteo-Clinton ferry reported 62,239 riders over Memorial Day weekend this year from May 27-31, according to preliminary data from Washington State Ferries.

There were 66,895 ferry riders over Memorial Day weekend in 2019.

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

On the North End, Deception Pass State Park saw increased revenue generated 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 percent 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.”

Although he didn’t have formal traffic data, he said that the closure of the south parking lot at the Deception Pass Bridge has improved the flow in his opinion. Tourists parking on the shoulder continues to be an issue, though, he said.

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 reminded 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, she said, but didn’t think it was solely due to tourism.

She 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 from 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.”

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