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Eclipse brings tourism, challenges as Oklahoma prepares to go dark

Janet Cress, owner of Janet's Treasure Chest in Hochatown, Okla.
Logan Layden
StateImpact Oklahoma
Janet Cress, owner of Janet's Treasure Chest in Hochatown, Okla.

Everyone in Oklahoma will experience at least a partial solar eclipse on April 8. It’s an impressive sight. It happened here last year. But being in the totality is completely different — awe-inspiring and life-changing — at least that’s according to eclipse chaser David Baron.

“It’s the most dazzling sight in the heavens. It looks like a wreath or a crown that’s made out of tinsel or silk. You see these strands to it. And it just shimmers out in space,” he said.

Baron was a science correspondent for NPR back in the 1990s, and now writes books.

“If you are anywhere near the path of totality, you should make it a priority to get into the path of totality, because in some ways the biggest tragedy of all is to see a 99% partial eclipse because you could’ve gone 20 or 30 miles, and you would’ve seen the full thing,” he said.

Hochatown, near Beavers Bend State Park, has a population of about 250. Broken Bow, about 4,000. It’s anticipated 60,000 people will descend on the area by Monday to experience totality. That’s going to put an enormous strain on the infrastructure of mainly two-lane rural highways. State officials have been preparing for this, literally for years.

“This is going to be very challenging”, Department of Transportation Executive Director Tim Gatz said. “Expect first responders to take a little longer than normal to reach a situation that might develop. So we’ve really got to have that awareness. Fill your gas tank if you’re down there. Anticipate that you could be stuck in congestion for an extended period of time.”

The National Guard is being deployed. It’s suggested travelers bring physical maps along with them as the cell service in the area will likely be overwhelmed and GPS spotty. Pets that come along need to be fully vaccinated. Animals can behave strangely and unexpectedly during a total eclipse. There’s a lot for sightseers and authorities to get ready for. The same is true for local businesses.

“Well, we expect a lot of traffic,” Janet Cress, owner of Janet’s Treasure Chest in Hochatown said. “Most of our whole area is on septic systems. We can’t handle people coming into our business just to use the bathroom, not to shop, not to buy anything, just to use the bathroom. So for the Town of Hochatown, we’re going to provide 24 port-a-potties up and down our strip here so people have a place to go to the bathroom so they won’t overload our systems.”

Cress is worried about the sheer number of people coming to Hochatown. But that worry is tempered by what the Department of Tourism estimates to be $7.4 million in economic impact per day this weekend and into Monday.

A few miles away in the North Pole Community, Tinecia Hearne said her convenience store is going to great lengths to accommodate the coming influx of visitors, ensuring fuel tanks are full and there’s plenty of product in stock.

“We are making sure that we have somebody sleep at the store the entire time, because we want to make sure they’re able to get here and they’re not stuck,” Hearne said. “So we have made a bedroom here so that we can be open 24 hours during that time period.”

Local businesses are gearing up. Throngs of people are flocking to this small corner of Oklahoma. And state agencies and officials say they’re ready with a plan to deal with it all. Let’s just hope for clear skies.

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Copyright 2024 KOSU. To see more, visit KOSU.

Logan Layden is a native of McAlester, Oklahoma. He's a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a Master's in Journalism and spent three years as a student employee, covering the state capitol and local host of All Things Considered for KGOU. Logan was hired as a reporter for StateImpact Oklahoma from its creation in 2011 through 2017.