Since the 1970s, Tootsie Clark, now 95, has raced up the North Cascades Highway to share her famous cinnamon rolls and be the first in line when the highway reopened after winter snow was cleared away. This year could be her last.
MILEPOST 134, NORTH CASCADES HIGHWAY —
Derrick Boyer leaned down into the passenger window of the 1988 Cadillac El Dorado to shake the hand of the woman who started the sweetest of highway traditions.
“Hello! You must be the famous Tootsie,” he said Tuesday morning. “Thank you for everything. You drove me to be up here.”
He then leaned into the car to have his photo taken with the 95-year-old Tootsie Clark, who for decades has made the reopening of the North Cascades Highway into a flavorful event with her spunky disposition and boxes of homemade cinnamon rolls.
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For decades, Clark, whose family has long owned a Marblemount, Skagit County, restaurant and resort, has made it her mission to be the first in line to drive through the mountain passes once the highway was reopened to traffic.
Each year, the highway is closed for winter due to heavy snow along the 34-mile pass with an elevation that rises to 5,447 feet. When it reopens in spring, it’s reason for business owners and travelers to celebrate.
Clark does her part by bringing dozens of cinnamon rolls and hot coffee to hand out to travelers waiting for the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to swing open the highway gates.
Her son, Don Clark, said giving out cinnamon rolls was her way to draw attention to the highway reopening and to the Marblemount community, which depends on the tourists who travel the scenic roadway.
“She knew if she gave away cinnamon rolls, which she is notorious for, people would respond to that gift … it became an event rather than another day passing. It’s a blessing for everyone up there.”
She cooked up quite a tradition.