In late August 2017 a total solar eclipse of the sun will be made its way across the United States. This is a significant astronomical and scientific event, as well as a tourist attraction. Directly on the center line of the eclipse’s path is our hometown! When the eclipse hit our city at 11:42am, we will be cloaked in complete darkness for 2 minutes and 26 seconds and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees.
Let me start by saying that the eclipse is really exciting to me. To be able to witness such a rare, natural phenomenon from our front yard is a once in a lifetime experience. In fact, it has been 38 years since a total solar eclipse was visible in the lower 48, and 99 years since an eclipse has crossed the US from coast to coast. And, I also have a feeling of excitement with the fact that people will be coming from all over the world to witness this spectacle! We are considered one of the best spots to view this event in the country, making our town the host community for the international convention. All this will be historic! Generally, we don’t get a ton of visitors so it will be nice to have the tourism experience come to us for once, and let’s face it, our struggling economy could use the financial boost that tourism brings too. Our community of about 60,000 boasts mountains, lakes, rivers, vast plains, and a small, cultured city’s atmosphere. We also have a great deal of history to share ranging from dinosaur remains to the Pony Express. Sharing our history alongside our current lifestyles will be an important opportunity for our community. Restaurants and business owners are finalizing plans, festivals and events are in place, and every single hotel is sold out! Heck, even our house is rented out! This will be such a fun weekend and such an amazing event. I can hardly wait!!
But, did I mention this event scared the bejesus out of me as far as sustainable tourism is concerned? Did I mention somewhere around 60,000 people were anticipated to ascend on our city in the days leading up to the eclipse, and even more the day of? This means that for the first time ever, our city more than double din size over a four day period. While this post will focus on the concerns I have for the challenges this community will face, many of these points are applicable and should be considered in a variety of viewing locations across the country.
Here are 6 reasons why the 2017 eclipse scared me and what eclipse watchers and chasers can learn from it,
1. Fire danger. Because hotels were sold out in many of the prime destinations on the center line, visitors are now being encouraged to camp. Generally, this isn’t a problem, except some camping accommodations are being established in some unconventional places. Added to this is the fact that not every campsite can be monitored 24/7, especially those on private land. For those who will be camping, it is really important to consider that this will happen in August; one of the driest, hottest months of the year.
What can you do about this? Find out what fire restrictions are in place and follow them. Most places will put burn bans in effect. Do not start fires! If you are in one of the center line cities, there will be plenty going on day and night that will keep you occupied, so no need to tell camp stories and roast marshmallows by the fire. If you happen to be in an area that does allow fires, make sure it is properly extinguished. And, do not throw burning cigarette butts out of car windows! Fire danger is real.
2.Community resources. Think about your city doubling in size in just a few day’s time, for the first time EVER. Would your city be able to handle that? I’m concerned about the impact this will have on our public works department, our water processing and electricity, and even on the city streets. One prime spot to view the eclipse happens to be near a building where I work, however the plumbing in that building is not capable of handling the 2,000 people that are expected to use the facilities in one day. And, every port-a-potty in town is already rented out.
What can you do about this? Take public transportation whenever possible to ease congestion on roads and reduce emissions. Walk or bike when possible too. Turn off lights and adjust the thermostat prior to leaving your hotel room.
3. Trampling vegetation. As people explore the area they are visiting and try to find the best spot to catch the eclipse, they will wander off established trails and trample vegetation. I know this sounds minimal, but trust me this is a huge negative impact that mass tourism has on the environment across the world. Even as an example aside from the eclipse, think of the damage that was done this past summer when tourists left the walkway and walked across Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone.
What can you do about this? Stay on established trails. Period.
4. Trash. Events of this nature generate a lot of trash. Think of the flyers, maps, cups, disposable plates, schedules, decorations, plastic bags, beer cans, and everything else that goes into coordinating large scale events and festivals.
What can you do about this? Find out if the city you are visiting has an app and/or website for their events instead of picking up paper event guides. The more paper you can reduce, the better. Bring your own reusable bag to put things in, as well as a reusable bottle. Recycle where you can.
5. Interaction with wildlife. Much like trampling vegetation, interaction with wildlife is also detrimental. It seems there are more than enough examples in the news lately of tourists trying to get selfies with animals, being mauled by bears, putting babies in cars, etc. These types of interactions are harmful if not fatal to humans and animals. I also have a great deal of concern surrounding the negative impact the influx of people and cars will have in terms of wildlife interactions on the road.
What can you do about this? Learn about animals in the area you are visiting and what to do in the event you encounter one. Would you know what to do if you ran across a mountain lion or a bear? What about a rattlesnake? Being properly prepared and staying in established areas will help lessen your chance of running into a wild animal. And, if you happen to see an amazing creature, admire and photograph it from a safe distance. Do not approach them! If you are driving in areas like Wyoming, keep alert to your surroundings. Not only can they dart across the plains and onto highways at high speeds (55 miles per hour for antelope), but it is also common for pronghorn antelope, deer, and other animals to be on the side of the roads, even in city limits.
6. Limited emergency services. Considering everything I mentioned above, it is also important to note that everything must be managed with the resources we already have. Local police and fire departments, as well as ambulance services cannot provide additional staff without the necessary funds to pay for them.
What can you do about this? Be a good visitor. Don’t break the law. Don’t start a fire. Don’t request emergency assistance unless it is a true emergency. Be safe when participating in water related activities. Drive cautiously. Use common sense. This is the time where we practice common courtesy and help each other out.
Again, I must reiterate that I’m very excited about this eclipse, but I also have some very valid concerns. As with any place you visit, try to leave the area better than you found it. I believe that by working together, we can make this experience safe and memorable as the eclipse sweeps across the country and shows us all how spectacular a natural phenomenon like this can really be!
Did you travel somewhere to watch the total solar eclipse in 2017? Do you have questions about this event or something cool to share? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
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