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What Small Towns Can Learn from the 2017 Solar Eclipse



In case you haven't heard, Winnsboro and the surrounding small towns in Northeast Texas are in the path of a total Solar Eclipse on April 8, 2024. There are two schools of thought here:


  1. Some could care less and may already be sick of hearing it.

  2. Others are super-excited and cannot wait for this once-in-a-lifetime event.


So what is the big deal? Are all of these towns in the path of totality just exaggerating? Are they trying to cause panic? Will April 8 turn out to be just another day?

In 2017, there was a total Eclipse North of here. It crossed 14 states from Oregon through South Carolina. The next total eclipse to cross the US is in 2033 and will be in Alaska only, and another will occur in 2044 across the Dakotas and Montana. There will not be another Total Eclipse anywhere near Texas until the 22nd century. So, for most of us, it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The eclipse in 2017 gives us an idea of what the towns across the path of 2024 can expect, which will also help us prepare. Some of the towns in Wyoming and South Carolina started preparing three years in advance, and although they prepared well, they had a few hiccups.


So what can our Small towns expect, and how do we prepare the best way we can?


Rise in Population


The amount of influx is hard to predict. However, the 2017 eclipse only lasted a little over 2 1/2 minutes, and the totality of April 8 will be about 4 minutes. So, there may be more people coming than expected. While some towns may not get as many visitors as others it is beneficial for all to be prepared for an influx.

One town in Tennessee with a population of 6000 was expecting 10,000 visitors and ended up with 70,000! Hopkinsville, Kentucky, with a population of around 33,000, had 100,000 visitors the week of the eclipse. Most population increases were smaller but still significant, easily doubling and tripling their populations. One main takeaway the smaller towns wanted us to know is that even if you are just a blip on the map, do not be complacent. Prepare!

Where will all of these extra people be coming from? Most will be coming from States that will not have totality. But there will be people from all over the world in Northeast Texas that week. Casper, Wyoming (population 58,000) had an estimated 585,000 people pass through the city, and they had a unique way to find out where everyone was coming from. The town bought a 9x7 world map and had visitors pin where they came from; the results showed that people visited from 6 continents and 142 countries!

With this rise in population will come a surge in the need for basic necessities, including gas, water, food, and toilet facilities. The stores will need to figure in some extra needed items for the increase, but locals can also stock up beforehand so they are not surprised by the lack of toilet paper that week.


Portable potties will be needed starting a week before the eclipse. Some places in 2017 reported that people came as early as a month before the event to scope out the best viewing and camping spots. These portable potties will be needed so that local utilities are not overwhelmed.


Cities expecting a large influx will need to seek out volunteers or temporary employees several weeks ahead, as most cities and towns lack enough employees to handle that type of influx of people. In fact, many of the towns experiencing the totality have already declared a State of Emergency. Our little town of Winnsboro, Texas, has not gone to the extent that some have, but the fire department has sent out a PSA for the public and has been trying to gather information on how to handle best the number of people they might get.




Accommodations


Oaklea Mansion, most hotels, and RV parks have been booked for months, and very few, even primitive, camping spots are available in the area. By the time April 8 gets here, there will most likely be no accommodations left in the entire swath of totality. In 2017, people pitched tents where they could find a place, including parks, the sides of roads, and even trespassing in pastures and yards. Towns with parks should consider renting tent and RV spaces in those parks.

For those who are planning to book people for rooms in a private home, a verbo, or renting out primitive spaces in your pasture, remember to be reasonable. Do not over or undercharge. Visitors from the last eclipse said they would pay around double the normal price for a place to stay, and any more than that turned potential customers off.

If you own an air BNB or other accommodations, ensure you have eclipse glasses available for guests to purchase or, better yet, for free.


Food and Water


With an increase in population comes the need for more food and water. This may be a problem for smaller towns with limited restaurants, but for the ready ones, this could mean that they will increase thier revenue... by a lot! Many smaller towns, Winnsboro included, have stores and restaurants that close on Mondays. However, staying open on April 8 may be worth accommodating hungry visitors. All restaurants will want to double or triple their usual orders for supplies for that entire weekend, especially on Monday. Cities and municipalities should consider places where food vendors can rent to help the locals feed those coming in. Bottled water is also essential; keeping water at city halls and parks for those visiting impressed visitors in 2017. Remember not to overprice water so people are more inclined to stay hydrated. The city of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, made a few thousand from selling water bottles at only $1 each.


Cities Might consider providing water and meals to first responders who may need added support on the day of the eclipse


Even though restaurants must stay open for the eclipse, retail stores should also open that day. Don't miss out on this opportunity to make extra revenue. All stores should consider stocking eclipse souvenirs, merchandise, and solar-safe glasses.


Economic Revenue


Speaking of restaurants and retail, the economic value of an event like this is astronomical (see what I did there?). The impact made the eclipse into big business for the cities in its path but small towns in particular saw a huge economic boost for the eclipse and the two days prior. The impact on the state of Nebraska was $127 million. The City of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, with a population of around 33,000, saw an increase in revenue of $33 million! South Carolina saw a 269 Million dollar revenue increase across the State. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, got a 64.5 million dollar boost in revenue. It's plain to see that small towns and big cities alike should be on board with this eclipse. Most of the 2017 eclipse revenue was from food, lodging, and souvenirs.



Traffic




As mentioned, an increase in population brings an increase in traffic. In 2017, it seemed as though traffic was rough during the days leading to the eclipse, as people slowly drifted into towns and urban areas, and the big traffic jams happened immediately afterward. While people came in at a leisurely pace, after the event, everyone tried to leave at once. This caused traffic nightmares, particularly in rural areas where most highways consisted of two-lane roads and often only one or two crossroads. Traffic was backed up in most of the path of the 2017 eclipse for hours in many places. Douglas Perry from the Oregonlive.com site said: "If you're stuck on one of these highways...all we can say is sit back and relax: You're going to be there a while."


Schools should be aware that the end of totality will be right when most schools are let out, and it may be difficult or even impossible for buses to leave and parents to pick up their children on time. Many schools will be closing that day or have an early release between 10 and 11 am to avoid traffic issues.

Parents may consider keeping children home that day.



Emergency Services




All the towns and cities on the eclipse path want the citizens and guests alike to be safe and enjoy the show. Although most cities in 2017 had a crime drop, things can still happen, and emergencies still occur. One thing that the cities in the 2017 eclipse said was helpful was declaring a state of emergency. Not all the cities and towns in this year's path have done this but many have. A local disaster declaration allows public officials to preserve life, property, and public health when the city is distressed. It gives them the power to :

  • Request help from the State

  • Control access to otherwise public places

  • Close major roads

  • Hold individuals liable for the destruction of property

  • Hold individuals liable for ignoring instructions and/or ignoring evacuations

  • Temporarily suspend regulations

Follow any instructions given to you if a state of emergency is declared in your town.


Whether or not a state of emergency is declared, you must follow any directions from first responders. Do not go around barricades or argue with the first responders when they are giving directions. The police, fire, and ambulances need a clear path to respond to calls. Please pull over for flashing lights whether or not you hear a siren. Volunteer vehicles may not be marked or have sirens. Flashing lights = emergency; please be courteus and pull to the side to let them pass.


There may be a point in time when cell service is spotty or non-existent during the eclipse.




What Can YOU Do?


JUST HAVE FUN! There is no reason to panic; the day will be just like any other, aside from it getting dark for a few minutes at midday. Take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. Take videos and pictures. Look up some science facts and do some experiments with the kids. While it is good to be aware and prepared, that does not mean you need to panic.


Remember, extra people = extra resources bieng used. A few days before the eclipse, grab a few groceries just in case. Fill your car up, too. Again, be prepared for resources to be low for a couple of days.


Keep your animals inside. During the eclipse, animals usually exhibit behavioral changes. If your pet is nervous, you might consider sedation.


Use only certified eclipse glasses. Look for a number printed inside of the earpiece, ISO 12312-2, or you may also receive a paper certification. Do not use sunglasses; they are not safe. There are still some available online, and some stores in the Eclipse area may still have them too. If you use a camera or a phone to capture the event, use a lens cover with the same certification as the glasses, as the sun can ruin your camera.


Again, this is a fun and rare event, so enjoy it!


Your friends from Oaklea Mansion

Winnsboro, Texas



Resources:

Data from the 2017 solar eclipse



























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