“This is a once in a lifetime event, and I think that’s what drives the unpredictability of the influx of the population,” said Jordan Francis, health commissioner for the Darke County Health District. “The last time this happened was 1806, and the next time a total eclipse will occur (over Ohio) is 2099, so this is literally a once in a lifetime event.”
Visitors bureaus are encouraging travelers to “come early and stay late” over the weekend leading up to the solar eclipse on April 8, which is expected to happen at approximately 3:08 p.m. that day.
Local counties have known, and been preparing for, this eclipse months in advance with communities planning events around the solar eclipse while emergency management agencies and health departments prepare for the strain that many visitors could put on local infrastructure.
“Darke County as a whole definitely wants to encourage people to come here to attend the event,” Francis said. “We have a vibrant downtown. We have a lot of people who are invested in our community and care about ensuring that people who come here enjoy the experience. I think it’s going to be a good place to do it.”
Darke County has about four major hotels, which already are mostly booked up for the weekend of the solar eclipse, the Darke County Visitors Bureau said. Neighboring Miami County has about 13 hotels, and as of this week, there were still open rooms available.
Darke County has experience with large crowds. Eldora Speedway, which has more than 30,000 spectators at some of its races in New Weston, has plans to rent spaces on its more than 100 acres for people to camp over the weekend of the solar eclipse.
At least three campgrounds in Darke County already have agreed to open early so they can take in campers, but for people who don’t book ahead, they may face issues with basic needs.
“The problem is that, when that many people come in, they’re going to be stranded in some respect, and they’re not going to have access to restrooms and water. And that’s always the biggest thing,” said Stephen Willman, mayor of Greenville. “It’s going to be bottlenecked, and people are going to be stuck.”
To mitigate people being out on their own, Darke County agencies are planning on waiving the fee for temporary licenses for campgrounds, so people who own farmland or other open spaces can rent out space for campers. That way, the county can keep track of where people will be.
“From a sanitation and camping perspective, a massive influx of folks camping, some of which may occur in temporary camping locations, making sure that trash, sewage and water are handled appropriately is absolutely vital,” Francis said. They are putting out guides, such as information for food trucks, as well as preparing to connect temporary campgrounds with solid waste haulers and portable toilet rentals.
Announcements for events are expected to come closer to the solar eclipse as counties are preparing to launch websites aimed just at this event. The weather may be overcast in April, but tourism directors are still hoping to give visitors fun memories beyond the eclipse.
“That’s kind of our goal is to give them a good time during the weekend and let the eclipse take care of the rest,” said Greg Billing, executive director of the Darke County Visitors Bureau. Their website already features eclipse information at visitdarkecounty.org/eclipse-map-info.
While not on the center line, Miami County, Clark County and the greater Dayton region will still be within the path of totality, which is where the total eclipse will still be viewable. Communities outside the path of totality will see a partial eclipse.
“Each of the communities and organizations are planning their own events and things that they want to provide to residents and visitors during that time,” said Leiann Stewart, executive director of the Miami County Visitors and Convention Bureau. Miami County’s solar eclipse website is miamicountysolareclipse.com, which will be updated continually up until the eclipse.
“We want people to spend the weekend here,” Stewart said. Events are being planning for Friday, April 5, through Monday evening, April 8, next year. “We’ll have plenty of things for them to do in addition to our regular dining, shopping options, attractions, and museums that we have.”
The Greater Springfield Partnership is building a website at solareclipseoh.com, which has not gone live yet, to provide more information to residents and visitors about events involving food truck and live music and accommodations. They also are planninga special event leading up to and during the eclipse to help get people to the best viewing areas.
Communities within the path of totality have looked at other past case studies involving places that saw a large influx of people leading up to a solar eclipse to get an idea of what to expect, but they’re still not certain of its exact affect.
“We truly have no idea what to expect,” said Chris Schutte with the Greater Springfield Partnership. “We’re preparing as much as we can for an influx of people. Now whether or not we get hit with that influx of people, it will be very interesting to see.”
How should local residents prepare for this solar eclipse?
Local counties are expecting to see their populations double or even quadruple during the solar eclipse coming for Monday, April 8, 2024, which is expected to put a strain on internet access, cellular infrastructure, roadways and local businesses.
To prepare, local residents and businesses are recommended to have extra cash on hand during that weekend in case wireless payment options like Apple Pay or credit card machines fail. People also should get groceries, pick up their prescriptions and have their gas tanks filled ahead of that weekend in case roadways are congested and stores are packed.
People also should use the correct eye safety glasses when viewing the solar eclipse to prevent eye damage. Sunglasses are not safe to use to view the eclipse as eclipse glasses are thousands of times darker. Consumers should be careful not to buy counterfeit eclipse glasses. A list of verified suppliers can be found at eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters.
People also should not look at the sun through a camera lens, telescope, binoculars or any other optical device while wearing eclipse glasses or using a handheld solar viewer because, according to NASA, the concentrated solar rays will burn through the filter and cause serious eye injury.