Saturday, August 12, 2017

Eclipse visitors expected to overwhelm pockets of rural America

Eclipse craze has hit the nation, and in the West, where I live, I'm starting to hear a lot about the impact that eclipse tourism is going to have on rural communities.  One data point I heard is that the population of Wyoming is expected to double on August 21, eclipse day.  Of course, that's not saying a lot, one might say, given that the state's population is only about 585,000, and it's a big state (the 10th largest in land area) with lots of eclipse territory, so it won't take a lot for visitors to overwhelm residents.  

This piece on The Outline is datelined Glendo, Wyoming, population 205, a town that has run a crowdfunding campaign to help defray expenses (e.g., portable toilets, extra trash cans) associated with the anticipated tourism overload.  Here's an excerpt that highlights the rural angle on the eclipse.
The total solar eclipse, the first visible in the U.S. since 1918, has been named the “Great American Eclipse” and could shape up to be the country’s biggest temporary mass migration to see a natural event ever. And it is bringing rare economic opportunity and attention to small towns along the eclipse’s path of totality, or the area where the full eclipse will be viewable. 
Along with the potential to rake in significant tourist dollars comes the fear that small, rural communities do not have the infrastructure to accommodate an influx of visitors. At least one town, Glendo, Wyoming, is looking to crowdfunding for help. The town is home to 202 people and takes up less than half a square mile of land. But thanks to its prime solar eclipse viewing location, it is expecting 70,000 to 100,000 visitors. Town clerk Brenda Hagen has launched a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of Glendo to raise $20,000 to pay for sanitation expenses like portable toilets and trash cans. 
Like other rural eclipse hotspots Driggs, Idaho; Madras, Oregon; and Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Glendo residents have the opportunity to earn good money renting rooms, homes, and temporary campgrounds the night of the eclipse. What’s less sure for Glendo and communities like it is what the cleanup will look like and how many strangers will be willing to help. As of this writing, the town’s campaign has raised just over $3,000.
I've also seen/heard a few stories featuring Carhenge, in rural Alliance, Nebraska, population 8,491.   Here's a story in the Denver Post, and here's one from NPR.  This is from the Denver Post:
Townspeople here in western Nebraska’s sandhills have been toiling for three years to get ready — right down to the logistics of diesel backup power and baking cookies for foreigners. 
They’re bracing for a potentially chaotic rush of people converging on the eclipse’s 67 mile-wide “path of totality,” which runs from Oregon beaches to South Carolina, spanning Wyoming and Nebraska. This ranks among the most accessible total eclipses ever, with an estimated 47 million Americans living within an hour of the shadow. Suddenly humans, whose ancestors feared eclipses as harbingers of disruption, are flocking like crazy to be in them. 
But no matter how much planning towns and cities do, the unexpected and irrational loom.
* * *
But for residents of Alliance, with its brick streets and 1880s buildings, the eclipse is emerging as a tangible and overwhelming reality requiring wide preparations. And, in an isolated rural town, mobilizing for a deluge of unknown guests is done with a sense of duty. 
The crowd will include visitors who think nothing of paying as much as $10 for a hamburger, Solar Eclipse Task Force co-chairperson Becci Thomas told residents last week at a final prep session. But merchants must not gouge, she said, repeating a civic warning leaders have been repeating for months. 
“This is your chance to shine,” she said. “You’re having company. Be as nice as you can.”
As for the piece on NPR, it said some of the same things, but particularly encouraged tourists to take advantage of the spreads of food that the churches in Alliance would no doubt have on offer.   Kevin Howard of the town's visitors bureau is quoted:
Howard says the town is planning concerts, a 30-team softball tournament, a Native American powwow, plus all the churches will put out their best spreads. "There's nothing better than a meal at the church," he says. "Those ladies put out the good stuff."
Like the Post reporter said, the folks in Alliance realize it's best to hope you can entice visitors back again, not to treat them as one-time prey.

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