Wyo. officials: Eclipse likely biggest event

A young girl watches the solar eclipse during a solar eclipse watch party at the Laramie County Library on Monday in Cheyenne, Wyo. They city was near the totality path, which resulted in 97.5 percent of the sun being covered and a 15-20 degree drop in temperatures. Blaine McCartney / Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE — Monday’s eclipse was likely Wyoming’s largest tourism event in history.

That’s according to Diane Shober , Wyoming Office of Tourism executive director, who said there isn’t another day that even comes close to seeing the numbers of visitors that came to the Cowboy State for the celestial event.

“In the scope of the summer, Cheyenne Frontier Days is certainly one of the largest annual events hosted in Wyoming, and if you collectively add up all the other events that take place during that same time across the state, there’s no way I think it’d even come close to eclipsing — yes, that was on purpose — the Great American Eclipse,” she said.

Traffic counts on Monday showed an increase of more than 550,000 vehicles compared to a five-year average for the same timeframe, said Doug McGee, Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman. The surrounding days also had increased traffic volumes, as Sunday saw an additional 217,000 vehicles, 131,000 vehicles Saturday and 74,000 vehicles Friday.

But McGee cautioned against using vehicle counts to make serious estimations on the total number of individual visitors.

On Tuesday, a WYDOT spokesman told the Casper Star Tribune that the more than 500,000 vehicles counted could roughly indicate there were about 1 million additional people in the Cowboy State. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle also cited that assessment in its coverage. However, McGee said determining the number of visitors by a vehicle count is not an accurate method.

“While I do think we had a huge number of visitors, and maybe it did hit the kind of numbers of people are talking about, but using our traffic count, it’s a raw number, and to use it that way is fairly loose,” he said. “We want you to see this number as an indicator of increased activity, and there was a huge increase in visitors, but a single vehicle could have been included three or four times or more depending on what routes they go on.”

The Wyoming Office of Tourism is doing a full economic impact analysis of the days surrounding Monday’s eclipse. A more accurate visitor count will be among the data in that study, which should be available in October, Shober said.

Law enforcement dealt with a relatively small number of incidents, said Sgt. Kyle McKay of the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

There was a fatality involving a motorcycle crash in the Medicine Bow area. Extreme delays in interstate and highway traffic were seen throughout the state as well, he said. Compared to 2016, McKay said crashes were up, through surprisingly low given the volume of traffic.

Overall, Shober said it was a “phenomenal and successful event statewide,” with state and local agencies reporting a low number of negative incidents. The event’s benefits would likely stretch beyond the few days surrounding it, as it showcased the Cowboy State to thousands of people who might have otherwise not considered Wyoming in their future tourism plans, said Tia Troy, Wyoming Office of Tourism media and public relations manager.

“This put a phenomenal spotlight on the entire state of Wyoming,” she said. “Through this celestial event, we were able to introduce international travelers to the place we’re lucky enough to call home. It allowed us to elevate Wyoming and to show people why Wyoming is such a great destination.”