Hotels and campgrounds are booked solid for the August 21 eclipse, an event that is expected to draw up to one million visitors.
In the midst of one of the most severe winters in recent memory, few in Oregon are sunbathing or even thinking about summer itineraries. Yet the state’s tourism industry is sporting sunglasses and preparing for an influx of up to one million sky gazers from around the world.
That’s because on Aug. 21, 2017 a roughly 75-mile-wide, 337-mile long swath of Oregon, from Lincoln City to Ontario, will become the center of the universe, in a manner of speaking.
At approximately 10:21 am, for two full minutes, the moon will completely blot out the sun. It will be the first total solar eclipse visible in this country in more than four decades.
“This is like the biggest Super Bowl ever seen in Oregon,” says Jim Todd, director of space science education for OMSI.
The eclipse is not just a scientific wonder; it’s also a bonanza for local tourism businesses.
Hotel accommodations along Central Oregon’s “path of totality” have been sold out since 2013, says Joe Krenowicz, executive director for the Madras chamber of commerce.
Chris Havel, associate director of Oregon State Parks, says all total eclipse visible campground sites throughout Oregon are booked solid. “We opened reservations for campgrounds in the total eclipse zone at midnight on Nov. 17th,” he says. “Every reservation in every state park sold out in just one hour.”
Havel says the park service is preparing for the heavier volume of campers in a plan that includes moving rangers from outside the eclipse viewing area into ground zero. Strategic campgrounds along the route are reserved as buffer zones to handle any emergencies that might arise during the event.
“We are also looking at ways to open up at least a few hundred more campsites by either booking some non-reservation sites or clearing a few smaller out-of-the-way sites in Eastern Oregon,” Havel says. “A few of these parks might offer a better chance for clear weather, anyways.”
Travel experts say it will be difficult to find any form of lodging within the totality eclipse zone in Oregon. In fact, hotel accommodations for the eclipse event have been sold out for years.
“Oh, dear,” chuckles Dawn Frank, director of guest services at Phoenix Inn Suites in Salem. “We’ve gotten inquiries about the eclipse from as far away as England and China. All the hotels around Salem are completely full. Local residents are even renting out their own houses on Craigslist.”
“We are all sold out for the eclipse,” echoes La Quinta Inn executive spokesperson Jay Lee. Asked about reports of sky-high occupancy rates for hotel rooms during total eclipse week, Lee says only: “Rates are higher than usual.” (Science bloggers such as Joe Rao of Space.com began reporting incidents of eclipse price spiking by the U.S. hotel industry back in October.)
“There are still a few rooms available here,” says Courtney Rand of the Newport chamber of commerce. May grey or June gloom may give pause to many total eclipse seekers, she says.
Nevertheless, Rand does “suspect people are charging a bit more for what few accommodations we have left in Newport.”
Solar eclipses are often inaccessible to skywatchers — most of the Earth is covered by water. A total solar eclipse that occurs over populated areas is unusual indeed.
The last “great American eclipse” was in 1918, Todd says. “Solar eclipse 2017 is on par with this event.” Much of the excitement, he says, stems from the opportunity to witness the “Umbra Shadow” or, the darkest shadow of the moon.
The eclipse path covers 12 states and will travel coast to coast in 90 minutes. It will only take nine minutes for the totality to cross the entire state of Oregon.
About the business impacts:
The scarcity of camping sites and hotel rooms is ringing some alarm bells with state officials, and our Oregon’s tourism agency is already preparing for huge crowds that could show up here in August, says Linea Gagliano, a spokesperson for Travel Oregon. Worldwide buzz presents both challenges and opportunities for Oregon businesses, many of whom lost revenues due to inclement weather this winter.
“We are partnering with many tourism agencies such as the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association to educate Oregon businesses about ways to prepare for this event,” she says. “We are suggesting restaurants stock up supplies, we’re gearing up transportation providers, trying to provide more lodging. It’s really just all hands on deck.”
According to Gagliano, Travel Oregon is working with state agencies to educate people about public safety issues ranging from fire danger to transportation gridlock.
“It’s just so big. We are really in a communication and preparedness mode at the moment,” she says. “We could entertain hundreds of thousands, maybe even a million visitors to Oregon during this event. We just don’t know. Oregon is not only the first in the line of totality, but believe it or not our weather during August offers the some of the best observation points in the entire country.”
Gagliano says state roads like Highway 101 and U.S. Route 26 could experience severe congestion, especially if local residents decide to hop in their cars at the last minute to try and drive into the eclipse zone.
In Madras, Joe Krenowicz might be smiling. His region is considered not just front row for total eclipse 2017, but darn near backstage. He says Central Oregon offers the highest atmosphere clarity and highest predictability of clear weather.
“We have the largest expanse of open viewing on top of the Central Oregon high desert to observe the eclipse engulfing Mt. Jefferson,” he says.
Central Oregon communities are planning week long eclipse celebrations that will include live music and entertainment, presentations by the Lowell Observatory of Flagstaff, Arizona, and the second largest air show in Oregon on Aug. 26th and Aug. 27th, according to Krenowicz.
“Our objective is to welcome 40,000 visitors for this event,” he says. (Madras population clocks in around 6,700 people.)
Krenowicz, Havel, and Gagliano say every effort is being made to increase the number of rooms available during the eclipse.