With Hundreds Of Thousands Of Visitors Expected, Solar Eclipse Requires Lots Of Planning

Aug 18, 2017

Kate Russo, a self-described eclipse chaser, said she is coming to Wyoming to watch the eclipse because of the state’s normally sunny August weather and impressive vistas.

“When you look at the whole path of totality, when you think about where would be the most ideal beautiful location to see such an amazing, awesome nature event, obviously Grand Teton National Park really stood out. And it stood out for many, many, many people,” said Russo.

That’s right: many, many, many people. Estimates for eclipse visitors to Wyoming have been in the hundreds of thousands. Now this may have you a bit worried, but Russo, who is also a consultant on eclipse planning for communities, said there is a big difference between preparing for something like a natural disaster and preparing for an eclipse.

“The difference between a hurricane and a total solar eclipse is that we know the eclipse is coming. We know exactly when to the second, to the millisecond. So there’s no excuse for not planning,” Russo said.

Tia Troy, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Office of Tourism, said they have been planning for the eclipse for close to two years now.

“The Office of Tourism has been working with regional, state, and federal partners. Highway Patrol, Homeland Security, U.S. Forest Service, BLM - just a wide variety of different agencies to make sure we are all on the same page,” said Troy.

Wyoming has several communities in the path of totality, the area where the sun is supposed to go completely dark. Those are the most popular destinations for the eclipse, and Troy said the Office of Tourism has been reaching out to businesses and towns in the path over the last several months to encourage them to be over-prepared. 

“To say like ‘Hey, make sure you’re ordering in extra cases of water. Make sure that you’re maybe increasing your grocery deliveries to two times that week,’ or whatever that happens to be. Making sure hotels have enough toiletry supplies on hand,” said Troy.

Beyond basics like food, water, and toiletries, there’s also the question of how all these people will travel to Wyoming. Most will be driving, and Wyoming Department of Transportation’s public affairs manager Doug McGee said they are expecting a lot of traffic.

“That’s a lot of vehicles on our roads, and even if everything goes well we’re going to max out the capacity of a lot of those roadways if you look across the path of totality,” McGee said.

The path of totality is only about 70 miles wide, so McGee said to help things run smoothly, WYDOT is requiring contractors halt construction in the path of totality and on some highways in the days surrounding the eclipse. No oversized permits will be issued for the state, and troopers will be working twelve hour shifts. He said they have been mowing right of way areas along roads, doing extra maintenance on rest areas, and some workers will even be carrying water and extra eclipse glasses that day.

“We’re a little nervous, but we’ve been cautious. We’ve been doing a lot of preparation. So now we’re kind of cautiously excited to see what happens,” said McGee.

Another kind of traffic that may become congested is wireless traffic. The last total eclipse in the United States was in 1979. Things are different this time around, with potentially millions of people wanting to share their photos and videos on platforms like Facebook and Instagram all at once. Suzanne Trantow with AT&T said they are bringing in a Cell on Wheels, or “COW” that will expand LTE service at the Glendo Reservoir.

“In Wyoming we’re only bringing out one of these temporary cell sites. It’s one of nine across the country because we’re pretty confident our Wyoming network will handle this influx,” said Trantow.

Trantow said they recently expanded network coverage in Casper, but if service does slow down and you need to get in touch with someone, texts will have a better chance of getting through than calls.

Tia Troy with the Office of Tourism said residents should prepare as well.

“You don’t probably want to go grocery shopping the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, right? You want to get your shopping done a little earlier. Plan to go to the store and get the groceries a little bit prior to the solar eclipse, that way you’re not having to compete with long wait lines,” Troy said.

Eclipse Planning Consultant Kate Russo agreed.

“Try to avoid being on the roads that weekend if you don’t need to. Try not to schedule anything in for that final weekend, those final days. You know, don’t book in something that’s not necessary,” said Russo.

Russo said despite the crowds, people should embrace the eclipse almost like a holiday, too – as something special.