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Rural Blog: Rural areas, small towns bracing for major influx of solar-eclipse viewers in three weeks

As the historic Aug. 21 solar eclipse draws near, towns along the path of totality are bracing for tens of thousands of visitors.

“Whatever the biggest event in town is, they are going to get at least twice as many people — and usually more than that,”eclipse chaser and crowd consultant Kate Russo told Deborah Netburn of the Los Angeles Times. “This is not just a science event. This is a human event and something very powerful and life-changing.”

The eclipse will be the first to affect coast-to-coast America since 1918.

Hopkinsville, Ky., began planning for the eclipse 10 years ago since it is close to the point of greatest eclipse, which means the moon will look the biggest relative to the sun and the eclipse will last the longest.

That will draw a big crowd, including some NASA astronomers. The town of 30,000 has employed a full-time eclipse coordinator since last September.

“The community has enthusiastically embraced its role as eclipse central, even adopting the name ‘Eclipseville’ and painting a mural on the building next to Whistlestop Donuts, an iconic spot next to the railroad tracks that most everyone sees when pulling into downtown,” Netburn reports. “It is renting 15-by-15-foot viewing stations in local parks for $30, parking pass included.”

The city also asked for 85 members of the National Guard to help with anticipated traffic. Since most of the world’s bowling balls are manufactured in Hopkinsville, they’re planning to produce a solar eclipse-themed bowling ball for the occasion, too.

Though 12 million Americans live in the 70-mile swath of totality, where the eclipse will be most dramatic, most of that path goes over rural areas. Almost all public campsites along the eclipse path have been reserved a long time ago, and managers for public lands are worried about the influx of eclipse watchers, reports Zach Urness for The Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon.

“It’s the peak of fire season. Our emergency responders are going to be spread thin. And the forest is going to be filled with a lot of people who don’t camp very often and might have little experience with the outdoors,” Jean Nelson-Dean, the public information officer for Deschutes National Forest, told Urness.

Park rangers advise those who want to view the eclipse on public lands to get to your viewing spot early, expect traffic to be heavy, don’t litter or destroy fresh vegetation, and don’t try to climb mountains for a better view if you’re an inexperienced mountaineer.

One other piece of advice: Watch the weather forecast and have alternate locations in mind. An eclipse just isn’t the same if it’s cloudy.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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