Living On The Center Line Of The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse


The 2017 total solar eclipse has come and gone.  The last total solar eclipse that crossed the United States from coast to coast happened in 1918.  As such, this truly was a once in a lifetime event.  And, we just happen to live directly on the center line.  Our hometown was touted by NASA to be one of the best viewing spots in the country due to our probability of clear skies, access routes, and more. For the longest time, it was all anyone around here talked about.  We’ve been preparing for this for more than 2 years.  Thousands upon thousands from all over the world flocked here.

Pins on this map represent where visitors traveled from to see the eclipse in our city. People came from every continent!

Like many residents, I had very mixed emotions about this major scientific and tourism-centric event hitting my hometown.  I did my very first research paper of grad school on this event, which prompted me to write THIS BLOG POST.  On one hand, I was very excited for the eclipse itself, as well as the events and festivals that would be occurring.  Generally, we have to travel hundreds of miles away for opportunities like these.  It was nice to have these things finally come to us.  On the other hand, I was worried.  Worried from a sustainable tourism perspective.  Worried from a responsible tourism perspective.  And worried as a resident of this small community.  I was torn between the financial benefit this event would provide considering the current downturn in our economy versus the strain and damage the influx of people would have on many aspects of our daily lives.  After all, our state has lost 25,000 people recently due to lack of jobs.  But, our way of life has been built around a small city atmosphere.   I’ve studied this tourism paradox extensively in grad school and read countless articles and blogs about this type of impact in popular tourist destinations.  Now, I was experiencing the struggle on my home turf.  What the reality of this event would be like was anybody’s guess.  Our actual experience blew us away!

Below are photos and fun facts that will give you a glimpse as to what we experienced by living on the center line of the 2017 total solar eclipse.

I participated in a variety of festival events being held leading up the main celestial event.  The familiar sounds of classic Pink Floyd filled the Friday night air as we prepared to see the dark side of the moon.  I jogged, climbed and bounced my way through outrageous obstacles in the Insane Inflatable 5k.  Our local symphony transported spectators to another level through their dazzling Close Encounters of a Symphonic Kind concert.

Our international airport is small.  At most, it accommodates the arrival of 7 commercial flights per day, plus a few private planes here and there.  Generally, these are small commuter planes and regional jets.  With the eclipse, our little airport received over 200 flights in less than 24 hours, the biggest being NASA’s 747.  167 of these flights landed every two minutes on Monday morning between 5:45 am and 11:15 am.

Can you believe this little airport handled that much traffic!

Everyone cashed in on their opportunity to make a buck off the visitors.  At least 35,000 guests from all corners of the world stayed at local hotels.  Rooms in some of the most run down establishments in town rented for $1,500 per night or more.  Parks were turned into campgrounds, and residents rented out everything from spare rooms to RVs, tree houses to storage sheds.  Price gouging ran rampant.  I feel this was a mistake as many visitors couldn’t afford to enjoy extended stays here, thus missing out on this type of further economic benefit to our community.

A local park turned into a campground.

New businesses were built in anticipation.  Mom-and-pop establishments were patronized like never before.  Entertainers and artists took center stage. Vendors showed up on every corner.

The pulse of my city beat rapidly as visitors and locals flocked the streets.  We welcomed international guests and put our best foot forward.

On a typical day, one a few people can be found going to and from work on our downtown city streets. Clearly that wasn’t the case for the festival weekend.

Looking toward the sky on Monday, people were in awe.  Scientists and photographers were in heaven.  Cell phone service was disrupted.  Locals turned off their televisions and spent time outside with friends and family and complete strangers.

Animals exhibited strange behavior as shadows snaked their way across the horizon.  The mood became eerie.  As the darkness came, it was no longer day, but it wasn’t night.  We passed into the blackness while bypassing dusk, and day came without the presence of dawn.

This was purely transcendent.

Photo credit: R. Corbin

Nature’s spectacle showed us the colors of sunset and sunrise simultaneously.  We saw diamond rings, bailey’s beads, and the sun’s corona.  

Total eclipse photo credit: J. Burgardt

The temperature dropped rapidly and, hours later, I still had chills.  But, were these goosebumps really from being cold, or from witnessing the first total eclipse of my life?  That I wasn’t totally sure about…

And just like “that”, in 2 minutes and 26 seconds, the astronomical event of the century was done.

Knowing my educational pursuits, I’ve had a few people ask me if I thought our local festival and events leading up to the eclipse is sustainable.  My answer is no.  While it will take some time for the data and reports to be complied to determine the economic impact, I know it will be huge and that’s very important.  I’m so happy about that for our community!  I’m also so proud of the way our community represented itself and how our visitors treated our hometown.  However, this is not sustainable for several reasons.  First off, this simply will not happen again.  Without this celestial event occurring, we cannot draw 35,000-50,000 people from all corners of the world to our area.  We cannot bring in vendors, scientists, or even the Saudi Arabian Shiek who flew in for this spectacle of nature.  Without being on the center line of the total solar eclipse, we simply do not have the same demand, therefore we cannot maintain the same supply.  I do however hope that we can learn from the successes of the festival surrounding the eclipse and offer events on a smaller scale for years to come.  I’m hoping to have the opportunity to be a part of this if it does happen.  Additionally, this was not sustainable for several other reasons, including the large amount of traffic we received in a short amount of time.  As I mentioned prior, over 200 planes landed here in a short amount of time, many staying for just a few hours.  It is also estimated that over 500,000 cars came into our state in just a few days time.  I cannot imagine the carbon footprint this event caused here and across the United States. Was it awesome? Yes! It is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed.

I can see why people become eclipse chasers!

I know that I will never see an eclipse which has crossed the United States from coast to coast again in my life.  That’s something you experience once.  As a matter of fact, the next time a total solar eclipse will occur on the path which brought it through our city will be in 375 years.  However, just when I needed it, nature managed to show up, reminding me of how amazing our world really is.  Nature has a way of reminding me about the wonderful things I want to help preserve.  I saw many good cascading effects which mass tourism causes from a different set of eyes.  Also witnessed were some of the negative effects, and love that I have the future possibility of lessening these impacts.  I am so incredibly proud of the way my city came together, and of how our visitors from around the globe respected our home.  It didn’t matter if someone was a traveler, tourist, resident, photographer, scientist, astronomer, or skeptic… for that 2 minutes and 26 seconds every single person who was in my town put their differences aside and looked up to something much bigger than themselves.

Did you witness the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse?  Share your experience in the comments below!

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Fun fact – this is my 100th blog post!!