As the Aug. 21 solar eclipse nears, communities within the path of totality are preparing for masses of people traveling in search of the optimal viewing experience.
The expected influx has placed an unprecedented task in front of cities and towns that are unaccustomed to large tourist populations. Places like Hopkinsville, Kentucky, are working to transform their communities to prepare for the event.
“This is unlike anything this community has ever seen or will probably ever see again,” Hopkinsville Solar Eclipse Marketing and Events Consultant Brooke Jung said. “We’ve got people coming from 42 different states and 18 different countries.”
Hopkinsville, which has dubbed itself “Eclipseville” because of its close proximity to the point of greatest eclipse, will experience totality for 2 minutes and 40 seconds, about the longest in the U.S.
The city has a population of 32,000, while Christian County, where Hopkinsville is located, has a population of 70,000. During eclipse weekend, the county is expecting to host about 100,000 guests, Jung said.
In preparation, Hopkinsville is bringing in additional cell phone towers and canceling same-day surgery at the local hospital on the day of the eclipse to create an additional emergency room, Jung said.
They’re placing officers and tow trucks around the county to reduce traffic congestion, and they are bringing in additional health department officials to help permit food truck vendors. They created a utility committee to make sure lights don’t turn on in designated viewing areas during the eclipse.
“This isn’t something that we bid on, this isn’t something that we planned and it’s not something that there was a handbook for, so we’re kind of making it up as we go,” Jung said.
Other communities are taking similar steps. In Casper, Wyoming, volunteers went door-to-door in “business blitzes” where they distributed information about the eclipse to every business in Casper, Anna Wilcox, executive director of the Wyoming Eclipse Festival, said.
Festival organizers hosted round-table discussions to disseminate information and help businesses share useful ideas, like reminding hotels to stock up on toilet paper.
“We’ve worked to really make sure that businesses and residents are not only aware that this is happening and all these people are coming but they’re prepared for it as well,” Wilcox said.
Local businesses are also implementing their own preparations. Hopkinsville’s Casey Jones Distillery has organized a weekend of entertainment, and it will be serving eclipse-themed cocktails made with Total Eclipse Moonshine, Casey Jones co-owner Peg Hays said.
She and her husband AJ are concerned about challenges that come with lots of people; they expect to host around 1,000 visitors over the weekend and a couple thousand on the Monday of the eclipse.
“I’ve been praying a lot,” Hays said. “It’ll be a bit of a challenge, but everybody’s in tune that we do need to be aware. Now, we don’t want that to mar anybody’s great time, and the only real requirement that we have if you come to Casey Jones Distillery is that you keep your sense of humor.”
The Hays’ are installing a security system and bringing in extra sources of electricity for food vendors, but they are concerned about how limited bandwidth could impact their ability to accept debit and credit card transactions.
“It’ll be a challenge if everybody just has plastic, so I would suggest highly [that people] bring cash and checks,” Hays said, also noting that local law enforcement told her to be vigilant of scam artists.
Jung said visitors should get gas and go to an ATM before they reach their destinations. She also recommended people bring bottled water, snacks and sunscreen for the trip.
“You will be in the car for a longer period of time probably than you anticipate because there are going to be 100,000 other people coming along with you,” Jung said.
In Wyoming where it’s dry and in the peak of fire season, Wilcox said campfires will be banned. People should be aware that leaving a car on the side of the road or throwing a cigarette butt out a window could start a fire, Wilcox added.
She also said people could need to adjust to Casper’s high elevation and should keep an eye out for altitude sickness symptoms.
Places like Casper and Hopkinsville may not have chosen to be in the path of totality, but they are still looking forward to showing off their communities and experiencing a total eclipse.
"There’s no reason why we can’t all have fun doing it together,” Hays said. “The big thing here for us...is that when that moment of totality comes, that we can all experience it together.”