A fountain of knowledge

— image credit:

NORTH BEND _ For many of the 7,000 or so visitors who made

their way across the Eastern Washington desert, over the Columbia River

Gorge and through the Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 90 this summer, Ed

Stow and Betty Gildersleeve were the first to smile and welcome them to

Western Washington.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a

week, either Stow or Gildersleeve or both can be found inside the small visitor

information center in North Bend, at the intersection of Bendigo Way and

Park Street.

Along with a microwave, a couple of chairs, a desk and a filing

cabinet, the two share their cramped space with hundreds of brochures and

informational materials. From the Salish Lodge and Resort to Mount Si,

from Pike Place Market to British Columbia, they point people in the right


As employees of the Bellevue-based East King County

Convention and Visitors Bureau, to which the cities of Snoqualmie and North

Bend contribute funds, Stow and Gildersleeve meet people from

across the United States and around the world. Contained in a

spiral-bound notebook used to log visitors to the center, are the names of cities

and countries dotting every continent.

Thumbing his way through the logbook, Stow pointed to the

home countries of some recent visitors, including Brazil, Japan — "A

weekly occurrence," he said — Ethiopia,

Finland, Romania, Luxembourg and Denmark.

"You just cannot believe the people we get," he said.

Stow has worked at the visitor information center since 1986. For

26 years before that, he was a traveling salesman, whose territory

covered much of Western Washington and British Columbia. Upon retiring, his

wife gave him an ultimatum: Either find something to do, or she would find

it for him. Soon after that, he had an interview for a position at the

visitors information center.

"I came up here, and I was one of 10 people and one of three they

hired," he said. "It's not a demanding job."

But some would say Stow is being modest. Gregarious by nature

and possessing an anecdote for seemingly every situation, the Fall City native

has seen it all, from "Twin Peaks" mania to the flood of people relocating

to Western Washington.

"Ed runs the show," Gildersleeve said. "I just do what he needs me

to do."

Gildersleeve started at the information center two years ago, filling

in on Thursday afternoons. This was her first full summer working at the

center. During the winter, Gildersleeve, of North Bend, works as a

substitute teacher for Snoqualmie Valley School District No. 410.

"The people that are stopping here, we're their first contact; we're the

first person they see in Western Washington" she said.

"I've had a dream summer job. I couldn't ask for a better job …

I'm being paid to have fun."

She said the two most common questions visitors to the

information center have are: "Where's the

trailhead to Mount Si and where are the falls?"

The two questions are so common that Stow and Gildersleeve drew up

a small map that they Xerox and hand out to those needing directions.

And in the event the person manning the booth has to step away for a few

minutes, they'll tape a map to the front door.

During an interview with a reporter, Stow took time to answer

a visitor's question about how to get to Snoqualmie Falls. He dug out one

of his Xeroxed maps and showed the man.

"I could tell you to follow Highway 202, but then I wouldn't need

to be working here," Stow quipped.

While much of the information the two disperse comes in the form

of maps and brochures stashed inside and outside the A-frame booth, because

of their knowledge of the state, Stow and Gildersleeve are often able to

give firsthand accounts of how to get places and what to do once a visitor

gets there. And it's that added personal touch that make visitors leave the

information center with a smile.

"It helps people if you can personally say, `I've been

there,'" Gildersleeve said.

"It really makes you feel good to think you can solve those

problems," Stow said.

In his 14 years at the information center, Stow has helped solve

thousands of problems, but one of his favorite recollections is about an

Illinois man who drove across Washington five years ago. Upon arriving in

North Bend and stopping at the visitor information center, the man

asked, somewhat incredulous, "Do you know there's a desert between here and


Susan Hankins, director of the Upper Valley Chamber of

Commerce, said Stow and Gildersleeve are naturals at their jobs. The

Chamber helps select people to work at the information center.

"They're just treasures, they truly are," she said. "You really do need

a personality that loves people.

"So many people are given information that they could never get if

they didn't stop and talk to these people."

Stow said during his first eight to 10 years on the job, 30 percent of

the people who stopped at the center were fans of "Twin Peaks." An extra in

the pilot episode, he said the fans of the television series and movie _ the

show was cancelled in 1991 — continue visiting the area to this day.

Many of them have visited the Valley area more than once. Stow

said a woman from England has been to North Bend three times, the first

two times with her husband and once by herself. Recently the mother of a

teen-age "Twin Peaks" fan pulled Stow aside and thanked him for his help

after telling her son where different scenes for the television show

were shot.

A few days before closing up the center for the summer,

Gildersleeve said the last three months have

passed quickly.

"I can't believe the summer's over," she said.

"I've already told Sue, `Sign me up for next year.'"

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