Expecting an influx of what could be several thousand visitors in Hastings for the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, local residents can take steps to make the day and preceding weekend go more smoothly.
Citing tourism and astronomy experts, Kayla Nelson, executive director of the Adams County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Nebraska is estimated to receive 116,000 to 466,000 visitors within a band that stretches across the state but is only about 70 miles wide.
“We are going to need all of the businesses in town to be very well aware of how many people might possibly be here and the types of people that are possibly going to be here,” she said. “If everyone does their best to prepare in advance and does their best to play their role, whatever that role may be, it should be as smooth as we possibly can make it. Obviously, to some extent there could be an aspect of controlling some chaos here and there. We don’t know what to expect but we’re doing the best we can as a city.”
To capitalize on those visitors, Hastings will play host to SolFest in the weekend leading up to the solar eclipse.
Activities include the SolFest Gala Friday night at Colonial Gardens featuring retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson; the SolFest Music Festival Saturday at Brickyard Park featuring Hear Nebraska’s Good Living Tour; and Art and Sol fine arts festival — taking the place of Art in the Park this year — Sunday afternoon in downtown.
SolFest has partnered with the Crane Trust Visitors Center outside Wood River to provide a viewing area with minimal light pollution and closer to the eclipse center line than Hastings. The eclipse will last 2 minutes and 14 seconds in Hastings but 2 minutes and 33 seconds at the Crane Trust.
The solar eclipse will create the effect of a sunset once the event begins. Animals are expected to respond as they would at sunset.
“It’s going to be very out of this world to experience at 12 in the afternoon a sunset starting to happen,” Nelson said.
Also during the weekend leading up to the solar eclipse, Hastings Museum will play host to physicist and St. Cecilia graduate Megan Donahue.
She will give a presentation 10 a.m. Saturday titled “Black Hole Sun: Views from the Dark Side of the Moon.” She will give the same presentation noon on Sunday.
At 2 p.m. on Saturday, Donahue will give a presentation titled “Galaxies Galore!”
Planetarium shows are available with paid museum admission: noon, “Sky Tonight Live”; 1 p.m., “Earth, Moon & Sun”; 3 p.m., “Sky Tonight Live.”
On eclipse day, the museum will have its telescope out to observe the sky. Staff will serve free cookies and Kool-Aid.
The Prairie Loft Center for Outdoor and Agricultural Learning will play host to a family-friendly solar eclipse picnic on Monday. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy before the eclipse, view the event with eclipse glasses that will be provided, and learn about how plants and animals are affected by the eclipse.
Nelson said it’s wonderful to see so many activities in Hastings in the days leading to the solar eclipse as well as Aug. 21 itself.
SolFest promotes Hastings as a city as a destination, she said. As such she sees it as an umbrella festival for all eclipse-related activities in the community.
“SolFest is a really exciting festival we have planned to celebrate this the way we believe Hastings does best,” Nelson said. “At the same time it is a tourism weekend that brings people here for a very specific purpose, which is Monday. At the end of the day we need the entire city to be on the same page in order for this to go as smoothly as possible.
“As long as everyone is aware of what could happen then we can at least effectively prepare the best we can for those big numbers. Then at that point it’s just getting the job done.”
With visitors expected to begin arriving Thursday and the area possibly remaining busy through the following Wednesday, Nelson is encouraging local residents to get tasks like grocery shopping, vehicle refueling, prescription refilling and drawing cash from ATMs done well in advance of Aug. 21.
“It’s so important because, first of all, it allows those businesses to restock and second of all it just makes sure we have resources available for a massive influx of people if that’s going to happen,” she said.
Every community in the path of totality is faced with the same question: How to prepare resources for an unknown number of people.
With so many visitors in the community, wireless networks may be running slower. Traffic flow could take a hit as well.
“You don’t always know how long it’s going to take you to get to that meeting that normally takes you five minutes to get across Hastings, it might take you 30 minutes,” Nelson said.
Having visitors from out of state, as well as out of the country, Nelson said it’s important for local residents to communicate effectively.
“You are going to see a lot of people who aren’t from this area,” she said. “Not only do we want to be the community that’s friendly and makes people feel like this is an amazing option for them, but we also want to be the community that makes it easy for them because they don’t have to track down 15 people before they can figure out how to get to the gas station or where to go to get to this event or that event or whatever.”
She is encouraging people, if they are planning on going to a different location to watch the eclipse, to reach their destination in the morning, well in advance of the eclipse, to limit traffic.
For more information, go to solfesthastings.com.