Hot fun in the summertime: the joy of the family vacation

   Reading J.J. Jensen’s article this month about how local businesses often use the summertime boost in tourism to offset the losses accrued when the local colleges let out at the end of the spring got me thinking about tourism in general and summer vacations in particular.
   If you’re like me, the family summer vacations of your youth are something you look back at with much fondness.
   As a New York City kid, I was always very excited to vamoose from Gotham and head south to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to my grandmother’s dairy farm.
Driving tractors, baling hay, catching crayfish in the creek, listening to the cicadas whine from the trees outside — all these memories are as indelibly stamped on my memory as if tattooed there.
   At the end of the summer, we’d head even deeper into the heart of Dixie for a week on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a tradition I have managed to carry over to my family now; we just got back from our week there in July.
   The Outer Banks are basically a long, thin sand dune that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. There are parts of it where you could literally stand in the middle of the road and throw a rock into the ocean on one side and Pamlico Sound on the other.
The surf, fed by the azure waters of the Gulf Stream, is gentle, warm (78 to 80 degrees or so) and perfect for family swimming. The beach is loaded with shells and tiny critters perfect for young hands to uncover.
   Most of the Outer Banks is covered by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore or the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, so once you get south of a riot of out of control development and growth in Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills (where the Wright Brothers had their famous “first flight”), the banks are pristine dunlands, sprinkled with fishing villages and a few vacation spots like ours in Avon.
   If you want to take a family vacation to a beach with water you can actually swim in, the Outer Banks are tops on my list.
   But a funny thing happened as we got back into town on our return trip (after being bumped from a flight in Norfolk and having to spend an extra day there, but don’t get me started on the state of our air-travel industry): As we flew into Seattle and drove north, we kept looking around and saying to each other things like “Wow. We really live in a gorgeous part of the country,” or “it sure is good to see real mountains again.”
   It’s true. I can see how local merchants make good use of our tourism money, and I can see why people come here.
   The Pacific Northwest truly is a special place.
   The BBJ’s graphic artist, Sean Echelbarger, is about to leave for a week to hike 30 miles of pristine coast near the Hoh rain forest on the Olympic Peninsula. Can’t do that anywhere else in the country.
   Where are some of your favorite summer family vacation spots? I’d love to hear about them; drop me a line at

John Thompson is publisher and editor of The Bellingham Business Journal. He can be reached by calling 647-8805, or via e-mail at

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