Local, state and federal officials met in person and via conference call at Baker City Hall Wednesday afternoon to discuss plans to accommodate the tens of thousands of people expected to gather in Baker County to watch a total solar eclipse the morning of Aug. 21.
Timothy Bishop, Baker County’s contract tourism and marketing director, said the best current prediction, based in part on current reservations, is that 50,000 people could descend on the county the weekend before the eclipse.
Most visitors are likely to stay in the southern half of the county, where the full eclipse will be visible for the longest period — about 2 minutes and 10 seconds.
The path of totality — inside which the moon will completely obscure the sun — includes Baker City, and extends to just north of Haines.
All those people will need lodging (including public and private camp sites, hotels and motels and private rentals), food and fuel.
Bishop said Baker County has about 1,000 lodging units — including 550 motel beds and approximately 175 RV sites.
That inventory is about 95 percent reserved, he said.
The 1,000-unit figure does not include temporary camp sites. Huntington and Powder Valley schools, for instance, will allow camping on their football fields.
Bishop believes restaurants might have an onslaught of diners the morning of the event, before people make their way to a viewing site. In Baker City the sun will start to be blocked by the moon at about 9:09 a.m. and will be completely blocked at 10:24 a.m. The moon will completely obscure the sun for about 1 minute and 35 seconds in Baker City. The period of totality drops to 41 seconds in Haines.
“Our big concern with restaurants is most of them are pretty small,” Bishop said. “I don’t think they understand the magnitude of the crowd that we’re going to have.”
Besides that “compressed” breakfast rush the day of the event, Bishop said there could be another one similar period later Monday as eclipse viewers drive back through town..
He said he is working on a “eclipse tips” guide for businesses to help them prepare for the eclipse.
Another concern is that gas stations, and in particular ones in smaller towns, could run out of fuel because of unprecedented demand.
“We’re dealing with a lot of small communities with only one, maybe two gas stations,” Bishop said. “A 2,000-gallon tank will fill on average about 175 cars before they run out. We don’t want folks running out of gas on Friday afternoon or Saturday when folks are just arriving and not being able to refuel.”
Shelly Cutler, director of the Baker County Chamber of Commerce, said her office has been getting calls about campsite availability.
“Every day we’re getting inundated with calls both from folks traveling to the county and folks within the county that now want to open up their property to camping,” she said.
Cutler said she is directing the travelers to the chamber’s website, which lists “dry” camping options — places such as fields and pastures that lack amenities.
For property owners who want to allow camping, Cutler is connecting them with the Baker County Planning Department and emergency services.
Anne Mitchell and Rachel Weinstein, county eclipse planning team leaders for Wheeler and Gilliam counties, respectively, voiced their planning efforts and concerns over the phone.
Mitchell said Wheeler County, which has the smallest population, 1,465, among Oregon’s 36 counties, is developing temporary conditional use permits to let landowners allow camping on their land.
Weinstein said the eclipse will be viewable only from the southern edge of Gilliam County, the third-smallest county with a population of 1,980. But the city of Condon is only 15 minutes north of the edge of the path of totality.
“The city of Condon is putting on a concert on Monday night,” Weinstein said.
There will be 250 (possibly more) dry camp sites available at Condon’s golf course and 100 dry RV campsites at the fairgrounds.
Grocery stores and restaurants in Condon have been notified to be prepared, Weinstein said. Gas stations have also been alerted to have extra gas ready.
Mitchell and Weinstein both said their counties are coordinating with the Oregon Department of Transportation, law enforcement and emergency services to prepare for the influx of people and traffic.
Tom Davis, operations coordinator with ODOT, said all highway construction projects in and around the path of totality will be suspended before, during and after the event to aid in the flow of traffic. ODOT employees’ vacations have also been suspended for the time period.
See more in the April 28, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.