Although it’s more than a trip around the sun away, Wayne County is beginning to prepare for what could be more than 100,000 visitors — and their tourism dollars — visiting the area to witness a total solar eclipse next year.
Western Wayne County will be directly in the path of the rare event on April 8, 2024. Around 3 p.m. that day, the moon will pass directly between the sun and the earth, suddenly darkening the sky for several minutes.
Eclipse viewings can educate and inspire as the universe shows off its wonders. Many have traveled great distances across the world to be part of that experience.
For the 2017 eclipse, a southwestern Kentucky city, Hopkinsville, was a prime viewing spot. Its populations of 31,000/city and 70,000/county are comparable to Richmond and Wayne County.
Hopkinsville swelled with 116,000 visitors who descended on the community to be a part of the cosmic phenomenon. They came from across the United States and around the world to be there, and then they left.
This time, it may be rural Wayne County that turns into Eclipseville.
Wayne County Convention & Tourism Bureau staff aim to attract visitors for Saturday, Sunday and Monday festivities. They want to fill local restaurants, shops, hotels and attractions throughout the long weekend.
“This could bring in millions of dollars for Wayne County,” said Nancy Sartain, leisure market manager at the Bureau.
Sartain sees huge potential with Wayne County’s easy access from state and federal highways, such as U.S. 35, U.S. 27, Interstate 70, U.S. 40, Indiana 38, Indiana 1 and Indiana 3.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Sartain said.
Although the eclipse is 409 days away, several local organizations already are preparing special events, ranging from astronomy to arts, to appeal to guests and residents. More events are welcome, especially in rural Wayne County.
“The whole community has to embrace it to make it work,” Sartain said.
Sartain expressed amazement at the “massive” planning effort that Hopkinsville took on. Thus, local officials are studying the city’s preparations closely. They hope to benefit from insights on transportation and safety, health and sanitation, marketing and utilities.
According to state officials, Indiana is within a one-day drive for 70% of the nation, and this eclipse will be the last total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous U.S. until 2044; even then, it will only be visible from Montana and North Dakota.
First responders are among those examining how to be prepared for large crowds traveling here days in advance of the approximately 4-minute event, and the surge of people leaving just minutes after.
“While the path of totality is actually located in one of the most rural parts of Wayne County, the impact of visitors coming from all over the world for the event will absolutely be felt countywide,” said Matthew Cain, director for Wayne County Emergency Communications and Wayne County Emergency Management.
Cain said local and state leaders have begun planning emergency services related to the eclipse.
Indiana Department of Homeland Security has convened a state-level committee to provide guidance and support to local emergency responders throughout the next 14 months, including training and exercises.
Emergency management personnel routinely look at historical events and the issues seen in communities, Cain said, and Kentucky’s 2017 eclipse response is being considered.
“Utilizing the after-action reports from those events will absolutely help us be better prepared ourselves,” Cain said.
One of the largest local concerns is a potential strain the temporary population will place on local emergency services, followed closely by the traffic congestion following the event.
Cain said county commissioners are aware of planning efforts, and that EMA plans to involve partner responder agencies in planning meetings.
Participating in a solar eclipse viewing is the stuff of history. NASA data shows that there have been only 15 total eclipse events to affect a portion of the continental U.S. over the last 150 years.
Reflections on 2017 in Nebraska
A Richmond couple who experienced the 2017 eclipse while living in another state are excited about next year’s local opportunity.
Daren and Ann Snider worked at University of Nebraska at Kearney, and their community was directly in the totality path of the 2017 eclipse. They recall a few people renting out their homes to viewers from around the country, and can see that happening here as well.
Viewing events took place at the UNK stadium and high school. Leaders of both campuses presided over programs explaining the phenomenon that was about to occur.
Ann said it was fun to plan and prepare for what she called a great learning opportunity. T-shirts and protective eyewear were distributed to all schoolchildren and families.
“Our children had the best time,” Ann said. “They even catered boxed lunches and the kids sat out on the football field and shared the experiences.”
Daren and Ann saw the eclipse from their backyard. They had a large yard encircled by trees and shrubs, so there was always noise from birds.
“When the eclipse happened, two things struck me: the birds suddenly grew silent as though confused by the inexplicable ‘nightfall,’ and the air grew instantly cool, dropping perhaps 10-15 degrees,” Daren said. “When the sun reemerged, the birds began to sing again and the air became sultry with summer heat again.”
The partial eclipse will be visible from approximately 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., so Ann is hopeful that April 8 could be warm enough for a lunch on the lawn here as well.
What’s an eclipse?
NASA says an eclipse takes place when a planet or moon passes between another planet, moon or the sun.
The moon lines up with Earth and blocks the sun’s radiant light, casting a shadow.
Wayne County residents will be among those able to witness a total solar eclipse around 3 p.m. April 8, 2024. As Earth spins, only certain areas of the nation and world will see the full or partial shadow.
How to get involved
Wayne County Convention & Tourism Bureau is connecting area residents willing to prepare for potentially thousands of visitors arriving between April 6-8, 2024, to view the total solar eclipse.
Tourism officials welcome additional organizations interested in organizing special events for visitors and residents.
They’re also creating volunteer committees for communications and marketing, safety and transportation, health and sanitation, and utilities.
Potential volunteers are asked to email email@example.com and include their name, interest area and phone number. For more information, call Angel Gray at (765) 935-8687.