Daily Egyptian

After years of planning, university and city officials ‘confident’ going into eclipse weekend

Surrounded+by+incoming+freshman+and+new+students%2C+interim+Chancellor+Brad+Colwell%2C+center%2C+wears+a+pair+of+solar+eclipse+glasses+for+a+group+photo+following+the+convocation+ceremony+Friday%2C+August+19%2C+2016%2C+at+SIU+Arena.+%28Ryan+Michalesko+%7C+DailyEgyptian.com%29
Surrounded by incoming freshman and new students, interim Chancellor Brad Colwell, center, wears a pair of solar eclipse glasses for a group photo following the convocation ceremony Friday, August 19, 2016, at SIU Arena. (Ryan Michalesko | DailyEgyptian.com)

Surrounded by incoming freshman and new students, interim Chancellor Brad Colwell, center, wears a pair of solar eclipse glasses for a group photo following the convocation ceremony Friday, August 19, 2016, at SIU Arena. (Ryan Michalesko | DailyEgyptian.com)

Surrounded by incoming freshman and new students, interim Chancellor Brad Colwell, center, wears a pair of solar eclipse glasses for a group photo following the convocation ceremony Friday, August 19, 2016, at SIU Arena. (Ryan Michalesko | DailyEgyptian.com)

By Marnie Leonard

On Aug. 21, Carbondale will be home field to a celestial Super Bowl that is expected to temporarily swell the city’s population by an astronomical 50,000 to 100,000 people.

With national attention increasingly focused on southern Illinois, locals know to expect a crowd from Aug. 18 to Aug. 21.

Visitors will include tourists, scientists, eclipse chasers, Ozzy Osbourne fans and more. Hotels and campgrounds in and around Carbondale have been sold out for months, and the Student Recreation Center and Schneider Hall are at capacity for the weekend.

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Though word-of-mouth and media attention around the eclipse have ramped up in recent months, SIU has been planning for the phenomenon for three years, said Bob Baer, co-chairman of the university’s Solar Eclipse Steering Committee.

“This is like holding a football game, a basketball game, a track meet, a baseball game — think of all the major sports we could do and imagine having them all going on during one day,” Baer said. “What we can do at this university is at capacity or pretty much beyond at this point.”  

Baer said he first became aware of Carbondale’s significance to the eclipse in 2014. The city is just a few miles north of the point of greatest duration, the location where the eclipse will last for the longest period of time — 2 minutes and 38 seconds.

“I was in shock — I wasn’t aware that we had one eclipse coming up in four years, let alone two coming up seven years apart,” Baer said, referring to the second total solar eclipse that will cross back southern Illinois in 2024. “I had to look up and verify that it wasn’t a joke.”

Since then, Baer has attended workshops for the eclipse and has been in contact with NASA and Citizen CATE, an experiment to capture images of the sun’s inner solar corona using a network of over 60 telescopes operated by citizen scientists, high school groups and universities, according to the organization’s website.

In 2014, the university formed its eclipse steering committee. Baer said committee members began reaching out to different colleges and registered student organizations to find volunteers. Of the 1,000 available volunteer shifts, Baer said 500 are filled, and he encouraged more students to sign up to help at eclipse.siu.edu.  

Two years ago, Baer said architecture students took on a project to design an observatory at University Farms. One design was chosen and cement was poured for ten telescope pads. During the eclipse, Baer said the site will be primarily used for research. Thirty people are registered to use the “dark site” at the farms, and that number is expected to climb to anywhere between 50 and 70.

Apart from the scientific preparations, Baer said a major consideration for the steering committee has been planning for the sheer amount of people that will be on campus.

“It’s almost cliché at this point, but the number of Porta Potties that have been ordered is extremely high,” Baer said.

Baer said the university has also added 27 acres of grass parking for visitors. Shuttle routes have been established around the city to help reduce traffic issues, Carbondale’s Public Relations Officer Amy Fox said.

Shuttle services will be provided to and from the Civic Center, Carbondale Community High School, University Mall and Oakland Cemetery. The shuttle will run from Aug. 19 to Aug. 21 and cost $5 for cash or $7 for card per vehicle. It will operate daily from 10 a.m. to midnight.

Parking maps for students, staff, faculty and guests can be found at the parking services website, www.parking.siu.edu. All city-owned public parking lots will be open to the public on a first-come first-served basis, and two-hour metered parking will be strictly enforced, according to Carbondale city officials.

When asked if traffic jams are expected to be a problem during eclipse weekend, Fox said every step has been taken to try to prevent them.

“We understand we’re in a pretty remote area and there’s only a couple different ways that you can get here,” Fox said. “Our public safety folks have been working with not only state police, but also regional sheriff’s departments and police departments to hopefully mitigate any traffic concerns.

Fox said the city has its own steering committee that has been working “around the clock” to prepare for the large crowds.

“We want to make sure everything is sparkly and shiny and ready to go for eclipse weekend,” Fox said. “We feel very confident going into it.”

City employees have gone door-to-door to local businesses to answer questions and ensure everyone is ready for the festivities, Fox said, and the city’s tourism bureau has maintained contact with area hotels throughout the planning process. Forums over the last few months have been held for business owners to voice concerns or questions to the city.

The ongoing “streetscape” project to beautify the city’s downtown will be completed the week before the eclipse, which Fox said will ready Carbondale for the amount of visitors it will host for the weekend.

A three-day music festival dubbed Shadow Fest will run from Aug. 19 to Aug. 21 in downtown Carbondale and will feature tribute bands, ‘80s performances and local musicians.

Fox said the festival came about as a way to entertain eclipse watchers, many of whom will be in the city early because area hotels enforced three-day minimum stays during the weekend.

“This will hopefully stop people from just sitting in their hotel rooms waiting for the eclipse,” Fox said. “We want them to be out and exploring the community.”

The Carbondale City Council passed a regulation in January to allow open alcohol containers downtown from Aug. 18 to Aug. 21 between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. from Jackson to Mill Street and between University Avenue and Washington Street, which Fox said will be “trial-and-error.”

“We want this to be a fun and welcoming environment for visitors, and since this is our first go-around for the eclipse we thought, ‘Why not try something different?’” Fox said.  “If it doesn’t go well, we’ll go back and consider making changes if we want to do this again.”

Several miles away in Carterville, Walker’s Bluff has been planning for one of eclipse weekend’s main attractions: Moonstock, a four-day music festival from Aug. 18 to Aug. 21 with Ozzy Osbourne as the headliner.

The Black Sabbath frontman will perform on the festival’s last day, singing “Bark at the Moon” as the eclipse happens at 1:21 p.m.

“It took a little bit of coaxing to convince such a huge star to fly into the middle of a cornfield at 1:20 in the afternoon on a Monday to perform, you know?” said Doug Brandon, business development officer at Walker’s Bluff. “But the weirdness of the whole thing caused him to confirm it.”

Performances over the course of the weekend include Saliva, Theory of a Deadman, Five Finger Death Punch and more. Brandon said preparations for the “epic event” have been ongoing for well over a year.

“In the past, we’ve had Lynyrd Skynyrd and multiple other artists, but the magnitude of this has caused us to bring in a stage about four times the size of our usual one,” Brandon said. “It’s crazy.”

Walker’s Bluff subsidized an 80-acre farm for parking, and Brandon said another 80-acre space dedicated to camping is nearly full for eclipse weekend.

The festival is expected to draw a crowd between 10,000 and 15,000 people, leading Walker’s Bluff to hire an additional 100 staff members and enlist over 100 volunteers, Brandon said.

There will be food trucks, beer tents and merchandise stands on site as well, which Brandon said will likely take another 10 to 15 people to staff.  

Brandon said Walker’s Bluff plans to make Moonstock an annual summer festival for every year leading up to the 2024 eclipse.

“Hell, I’ve talked to reporters all over the world because of the magnitude of the eclipse and Ozzy,” Brandon said. “It took a lot of momentum to get this thing going and we’d like to keep it rolling.”

Fox said Carbondale officials will hold debriefings after eclipse weekend to see what worked and what didn’t to help prepare for the next eclipse.

“We’ve been put in a national spotlight,” Fox said. “We just want to leave a lasting impression… Hopefully everyone will want to come back in 2024, if not before then.”

Campus editor Marnie Leonard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @marsuzleo.

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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