By Bob Difley
Small towns and hamlets scattered throughout the West struggle to get by. Without major employers, there are few jobs for residents so many of these small towns rely on tourism for their survival. One such town in the Cascade Range of Central Washington has branded itself in a successful bid to attract tourism – and it has worked.
The town of Leavenworth, like many towns in the West, struggled not to become a ghost town when industries and jobs vanished like puffs of smoke. The local railroad relocated its main roundhouse and station, and the mill, no longer having access to the railroad industry, dried up and moved away. An immediate exodus brought the town to its knees, suffering through the Depression and languishing through the ’40s and ’50s. The population and jobs continued to drop, but the residents (now numbering nearly 2,000), liked where they lived in the beautiful Leavenworth Valley with their backdrop of high alpine peaks and refused to be forced to move away.
So they put their heads together and in the early ’60s came to the conclusion that they would have to come up with their own rescue plan, that no government white knight would ride in on a horse of largesse to spread prosperity throughout the valley. They would have to devise a magnet to bring tourists (and their disposable capital) into the town in order to revive it.
And that they did en masse, mortgaging their properties and investing everything they had – all private money with no government help – on a dream, transmogrifying Leavenworth into an authentically reproduced Bavarian Alps town.
When you and the other two million annual visitors visit Leavenworth today, you will find the typical Alpine village of gingerbread storefronts, Wienerschnitzel and sauerkraut restaurants, beer gardens, accordions and polkas, gift shops selling everything German from beer steins to cuckoo clocks, and a full calendar of lively festivals, art shows, and other entertaining events.
Leavenworth has become a destination for family fun and weekend getaways, for visiting wineries and tasting rooms, and as a base for the myriad recreational opportunities in the mountains and along the Wenatchee River.