Nobody is sure just how many people will flock to a narrow band of eastern Idaho next summer to view the “Great American Eclipse.”
But it will be a lot — enough to cause traffic jams, overrun local businesses and overwhelm emergency services if we’re not prepared, officials predict.
On Aug. 21, the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental U.S. since 1979 will trace a 67-mile path west to east across the country, covering a stretch of land generally between Shelley and Ashton. An initial rough estimate, made by local city and economic officials, predicted 40,000 to 60,000 would come to the greater Idaho Falls region to view the 2-minute eclipse, which falls on a Monday.
But at a Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce meeting on the eclipse Tuesday night, Colorado astrophysicist and eclipse expert Jeffrey Bennett surprised some by saying the area should be ready for 10 times that figure, based on previous eclipses he’s attended.
“This has never happened,” city of Idaho Falls spokeswoman Kerry Hammon said. “The challenge is going to be to making accommodations when we don’t have an exact number.
“It’ll actually be dark here (in Idaho Falls), and that’s what people will be searching for,” she said.
The Idaho Falls City Council will consider how to prepare for the eclipse at a meeting early next month, including whether Idaho Falls should team up with other local cities and counties on planning.
Eventually, the city will need to consider things such as which parks should be designated for eclipse viewers, where portable restrooms should be placed, and how traffic control will be handled, Hammon said.
Chamber CEO Michelle Holt said eastern Idaho will be the place to go for eclipse viewers from Pocatello, Salt Lake City and Twin Falls. Plenty of international visitors already have booked hotels and inquired about viewing locations, too, Holt and others said.
She said local businesses should consider beefing up staffing, and ordering more consumable goods such as gas and bottled water around eclipse time.
“We know what it feels like on the Fourth of July,” Holt said. “But that’s only people from our own region.” Holt said a few local hotels still have rooms. “But you’re talking a year out,” she said. “They won’t have them for long.”
At least one Rexburg hotel, the AmericInn, was booked solid more than a year ago.
Even the local Bureau of Land Management office started getting calls last year from foreign tour groups inquiring about good places to watch, spokeswoman Sarah Wheeler said. She expects the Menan Buttes area to be highly popular, as it is almost directly underneath the center of the eclipse path.
Luke Ramseth can be reached at 542-6763. Twitter: @lramseth.
Luke Ramseth can be reached at 542-6763. Twitter: @lramseth