Forks WA History: The story of how the town of Forks sprang up in the middle of the Washington rain forest, plus the influence of the Twilight saga.
What is a nice little town like Forks doing in the middle of a rain forest?
Glad you asked; here are the why's and the wherefore's.
Before the establishment of a town in the middle of a rain forest, the Quileute Indian tribe lived throughout a large segment of the middle-west Olympic Peninsula, from the region south of Ozette Lake, to land north of the Quinault River, including the area that Forks would one day occupy.
In the midst of their densely forested territory, they had an ingenious way of attracting the elk that they hunted for meat: they created prairies by concentrating their tree-harvesting efforts in certain areas. They felled trees by burning and then used the wood for their homes and canoes. The large open prairie drew the elk herds which foraged on the grasses, bushes, berry-brambles and several fern species blanketing every open area.
Periodic burning of the prairies stimulated the growth of the tender ferns, and also helped to perpetuate the prairie.
The Quileutes had created several prairies in this fashion; it was the prairie wedged between the forks of the Calawah and the Bogachiel Rivers that attracted settlers to the region and helped to name the town of Forks.
By the time the first settlers began trickling into the western Washington forests in the mid-1800's, the prairie between the forks of the rivers 12 miles inland from La Push was a mile wide and three miles long.
A few intrepid trappers, Eli Peterson, Ole Nelson, and Peter Fisher, had preceded them, and they were already living in this "prairie upstream," as the Quileutes called it in their native tongue.
Over the next several decades, settlers made their way to the Forks prairie the only way they could - via boat to the shores of the Olympic Peninsula and then inland on primitive, and muddy, foot paths.
1884 was the year the post office was first set up, under the name Forks Prairie. By 1890, the town of Forks consisted of a hotel, hardware store, general store, and the scattered homes of the settlers.
The settlers were farmers, not loggers. Besides the vegetables, grains and forages needed by the community, the settlers attempted to raise and market hops. The crop grew very well, however the difficult logistics of getting the hops to market - transporting it either over land to Port Townsend (100 miles away) on muddy footpaths, or via boat - proved daunting. More often than not, the hops rotted before they reached market.
The Forks Cooperative Creamery swung into operation in the early 1900's, marketing milk locally, and butter to destinations as far away as Seattle.
It was inevitable that a town choked by trees would soon turn to those trees as a source of income.
By the 1900's, timber camps were in full swing. A brutal hurricane in 1921 (winds to 170 miles per hour) flattened nearly 20% of the forests surrounding Forks Prairie. The ready availability of so many board-feet of wood just lying on the ground spurred timber harvesting efforts.
Bloedel-Donovan was a timber company that invested in thousands of acres in the Forks WA area in 1921. They built their own railroad line to Sekiu so logs could be floated in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and towed to Bellingham in huge rafts.
Timber development grew over the years. Every improvement to the infrastructure provided more avenues for transporting the logs. The Olympic Loop Highway (Highway 101) certainly helped. It was completed in 1931.
Around this time ITT Rayonier began operations in the Forks region, employing hundreds of lumberjacks. To this day Rayonier owns more land than any other landowner in the west end of Clallam County.
On August 28, 1945, subsequent to a successful vote of the citizens, the town of Forks was officially incorporated under the name, Forks.
The timber industry continued to grow and then peaked in the 1970's. By then, Forks WA had earned the moniker, "Timber Capital of the World."
Timber harvesting has declined since then for several reasons, most of them environmental. As governmental legislation crippled the industry, mills were forced to close. The number of logging companies declined from 70 (in 1980) to 14 in 2001. The number of forest-related jobs diminished and unemployment soared. People left town to find their fortunes elsewhere, and the population dropped.
Today the Forks population has rebounded somewhat. It has surpassed the pre-collapse numbers. The current estimated population of Forks WA is roughly 3,600+ residents, which is more than its population during the timber heyday. Timber is still a significant industry even if reduced.
Work can also be found in two nearby prisons, in Fish and Wildlife, fisheries, forestry, and in the fields of education and health, among others.
The publication of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga in 2005, a series of 4 teen novels
set in the Forks WA area, created a boom in tourism for the little town of Forks. It now
typically sees 40,000 – 70,000 or more tourists throughout the year drawn by the Twilight story, the
rainforest ambience, and the Twilight Tours that help “Twi-Fans" relive a
touching love story.
See Twilight in Forks for additional information on how Forks celebrates the Twilight Series, and our review of the books.