By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
The path of the moon’s umbral shadow-in which the sun will be completely obscured by the moon-during the total solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017. The lunar shadow enters the United States near Lincoln City, Oregon, at 9:05 a.m. PDT. Totality begins in Lincoln City, Oregon at 10:16 a.m. PDT. The total eclipse will end in Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:48 p.m. EDT. The lunar shadow leaves the United States at 4:09 p.m.. EDT. Outside the path, a partial solar eclipse will be visible throughout the continental U.S. – Courtesy of NASA
A once-in-a-lifetime event will take place in a very narrow strip of geography across the United States. If you draw a heavy line on a map of the United States from Lincoln City, Ore. to Charleston, SC, you will find that the Qualla Boundary is in the direct path of a mammoth astrological event. Cherokee and the surrounding area are among the very few places on earth that people will be able to see the totality of a solar eclipse. The last solar eclipse that was visible in the U.S. happened 40 years ago and the path of that eclipse did not pass through western North Carolina. Per Western Carolina University, a total solar eclipse will not be seen on the Qualla Boundary for another 136 years (Oct. 17, 2153, to be exact).
Media and information on the technical aspects of the Aug. 21 solar eclipse are abundant. Municipalities, including this one, are capitalizing on the “buzz” this event has generated. There are events planned all over western North Carolina. From viewpoints to viewing parties, people are being invited to come to town to see this unique event in the sky. From a monetary standpoint, the eclipse stands to be an economic boon for the Qualla Boundary. When you consider the cultural documentation and relevance of eclipse events, Cherokee becomes a tourism target for the tens of thousands of people who are interested in this event. The eclipse happens at or near the end of the summertime school break, making it the potential last vacation opportunity before the kids across the country who must go back to the routine of hitting the books.
Meetings and planning have been going on for, in some cases, years for this event. Particularly destination marketers and tourism officials have been interested in this phenomenon because it is unique to our area, to some extent. Government officials are now starting to engage in the discussions, because there are significant safety implications to a larger than normal influx of people to our area.
From a tourism perspective, the tribal destination marketing organizers are concerned about the capacity of our viewing locations and capacity of our event venue. Frieda Huskey, EBCI Events and Fairgrounds supervisor, Special Events Coordinator Lisa Frady, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and Western Carolina University are partnering to have a three-day solar eclipse event which will facilitate our community and visitor celebration and viewing of the eclipse. Similarly, other municipalities are planning parties and providing materials to educate and generate interest in the solar eclipse event.
Since a total solar eclipse in our area has not happened in hundreds, experts are “guesstimating” how many people will be drawn to our area to watch the sky on Aug. 21. Some are suggesting tens of thousands of people may flood our area during the days and hours prior to the actual event on Aug. 21. No one knows, but based on hotel room and campground occupancy reports from our local and surrounding county, the educated guesses seem to be close. Reservations in our region for the weekend of Aug. 21 are ahead of other years and some hotels are saying they are already full for Saturday and Sunday nights (Aug. 19 and 20).
For the community, this could mean more traffic on the roads, longer waits at restaurants, longer lines and waits at grocery, convenience, and other retail outlets.
It is important that our municipal service providers be as prepared as possible. There is the potential for significantly higher traffic, which could translate to road closures and a higher frequency of accidents. This is true for our surrounding counties as well. Local, regional and even state police, fire, and emergency response teams have been actively involved in working with destination marketing authorities, Western Carolina University (who has been explaining the science of this event), and county governments to coordinate resources for this event. All service providers-water, sewer, electrical, communications technologies-need to be ready for the additional demand on services that will take place with this influx of people.
Unfortunately, with any event that causes large numbers of the population to congregate in a central location, we must also consider and prepare for any threat of violent activity or terrorism. Law enforcement and emergency services will be critical to the safety of our community and those who will be our guests.
The Qualla Boundary is a favorite destination for those interested in culture and natural beauty. On Aug. 21, many people will come to our Boundary to watch science meet one of our legends, the story of the frog swallowing the Sun. For our community and for our visitors, I hope that it is a safe and enjoyable experience.