A glimpse of history

The moon passes in front of the sun as students at Lapel Elementary watch the solar eclipse in 2017.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors. Traffic jams. Millions of dollars in revenue. A public-bathroom shortage.

State officials expect all of these things to happen a year from now on April 8, 2024, when a total solar eclipse will shroud much of Indiana in over three minutes of midday darkness.

It’s been over 800 years since the area experienced the celestial spectacle. The crowds coming to Indiana to witness the event are sure to match its historic magnitude, according to Justus O’Neil, public relations and social media officer for the Indiana Destination Development Corporation.

In fact, it’s likely to be the largest single tourist event to ever happen in Indiana, he said.

“Obviously the Indy 500 attracts just an enormous amount of people, but this is something that’s historical,” O’Neil said. “People will be traveling from not only all over the country to the path-of-totality zones, but all over the world.”

The eclipse will darken the sky from Texas to Maine, but officials anticipate Indiana will see the second largest influx of tourists with between 145,000 and 581,000 people visiting a year from now. Texas will likely see the most tourists, according to greatamericaneclipse.com.

A glimpse of history

Students at Lapel Elementary School watch the solar eclipse in 2017. The next eclipse visible in Indiana will be in 2024.

Those visitor estimates are based on studies published by other states that experienced the total eclipse in 2017. South Carolina reported 793,000 people traveled from out of state and spent $269 million. Wyoming determined 473,000 visited and spent $167 million while there.

State officials for years have been planning on how to best deal with the anticipated onslaught of visitors. Now, with the eclipse just one year away, the planning is over and real action is underway, explained O’Neil.

“Now is the time when things start coming together as opposed to planning,” he said. “There’s no more time to plan.”

That was evidenced earlier this week when the state launched its official eclipse website with a year-long countdown ticking away the seconds until April 8, 2024.

The site includes the best places to watch, a map of local events and detailed eclipse timeframes for different regions of the state. The page will be updated continually to include links to other state agencies involved in planning and preparing for the event, noted O’Neil.

But many cities and towns in the path of totality aren’t waiting on the state to promote their communities.

In Terre Haute, an eclipse task force has been hammering down details and marketing a slew of activities for 14 months, according to Susan Turner, executive director of the Terre Haute Children’s Museum who heads the task force. That plan will be honed and perfected over the next year, she said.

“We are really focusing on logistics and marketing and making sure that everyone in town understands how fun and cool this is,” Turner said. “We want to make sure that everybody has a good, safe experience while they’re visiting.”

With so many expected to visit, the city is turning the eclipse into a four-day experience dubbed “A Total Eclipse of the Haute.” Activities include festivals, special exhibits at museums, eclipse-themed drinks at local restaurants and a special concert by the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra.

“I am not a space nerd, but I’m getting really excited about all of the programming and learning opportunities that we’re going to provide over the next 12 months to teach people about the eclipse and why it’s a big deal,” Turner said.

Smaller communities in rural parts of the state are also bracing for an influx of visitors who prefer to witness the spectacle closer to nature – or simply can’t find anywhere to park or stay in a city, O’Neil noted.

“Bigger cities will get booked out so far in advance that people will almost be forced to opt to go into these smaller communities,” said the state destination officer.

In Washington, located just minutes for the path of totality, officials have started meeting in earnest to iron out details of what will be one of the largest logistical undertakings in its history, according to Jennifer Lantaff, office manager at the Daviess County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.

The town of 12,000 residents is working closely with its emergency management department and other agencies to ensure a plan is in place to accommodate what could likely be more visitors than the entire population of the city, she explained.

“It is anticipated to be very massive,” Lantaff said. “It probably will be a full-time job for every town trying to get everything squared away because you have to be prepared for everything.”

State agencies are working closely with local officials throughout the state to ensure their communities are prepared for eclipse day, O’Neil said. That includes installing hordes of port-a-potties at viewing hotspots, beefing up traffic control and preparing for any inclement weather.

“No region is going to be able to handle this entirely on their own,” he said. “Working with state resources to ensure that we’ve got all of our bases covered is critical.”

For those already preparing to visit the state a year from now, O’Neil offered a final piece of advice. Those special eclipse sunglasses you should wear while watching? Buy them now.

“We’ve been putting in orders very far in advance because we know these companies will quickly go out of stock,’ he said. “So many people are already ordering sunglasses for the eclipse.”

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