Jim Todd was a high school senior in Lake Oswego on Feb. 26, 1979, the last time a total solar eclipse was visible in Oregon, but he vividly remembers that day.
His science teacher was going to make the class stay indoors and watch the celestial event on TV, so Todd begged his parents to let him stay home. They drove east through the Columbia Gorge to escape overcast skies, arriving at Goldendale, Washington, just in time to view the eclipse as the clouds broke up and an eerie twilight descended over the landscape.
“When you’re in the shadow of the moon, in totality, you can look up and see the stars,” marveled Todd, now the director of space science education at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. “Animals respond — they may get quiet. The wind picks up. The temperature drops.”
Just before the moon completely obscures the solar disk and again as the sun emerges on the other side, small bursts of illumination may be visible between the lunar mountains in a phenomenon known as Baily’s Beads. Sometimes a single point of light will flare into a bright burst called the Diamond Ring Effect.
“Watching totality, it’s just an amazing experience,” Todd said.
On Aug. 21 of this year, Oregon will once again be in the path of a solar eclipse, and mid-valley residents will be perfectly positioned to share Todd’s sense of childlike wonder: We’re smack in the middle of the path of totality, the narrow band of shadow where the moon will completely block out the sun for up to two minutes.
There will be no shortage of places to see the eclipse — including, for many mid-valley residents, their own backyards. All you really need are a good pair of protective solar glasses (see accompanying story beginning on A1) and a clear line of sight to the sun.
But if you were hoping to find a nice quiet place to watch the once-in-a-lifetime sky show in solitude, forget about it. Oregon emergency management officials are expecting up to 1 million visitors to descend on the state for the event, with many of them funneling into the valley to stake out prime viewing spots.
As Todd puts it: “Expect some company.”
A partial version of the eclipse will be visible over much of the planet, but the full experience will be available only to those within the path of totality, a corridor averaging about 70 miles wide. In the United States, that corridor will stretch from Depoe Bay, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina.
But we’ll get it first.
The eclipse will make landfall on the Oregon coast at about 9:05 a.m. Pacific time on Monday, Aug. 21, according to NASA’s website. The moon will gradually cover up more and more of the solar disk until it goes completely dark and the real celestial fireworks begin.
Totality will start about 10:15 on the coast and a little bit later as the moon’s shadow moves inland (see graphic with this story for more precise local times). The period of totality will range from a few seconds near the edge of the path to a full two minutes along the centerline.
After that, the process will begin to reverse itself, with the sun gradually re-emerging from behind the moon until full daylight returns about 11:40.
Oregon’s position on the West Coast and the state’s generally clear skies in high summer have made it a magnet for eclipse chasers, as evidenced by the titanic demand for overnight accommodations. Virtually every hotel room in and around the path of totality has been booked, in many cases a year or more in advance. Likewise, campground reservations were snapped up as soon as they became available. When Oregon State Parks opened an extra 1,000 campsites for online reservation last month, they were gone in just over an hour.
“We just happen to be in the right place at the right time,” Todd said.
Taking advantage of eclipse fever, enterprising Oregonians are planning a number of major festivals along the path of totality, with camping, outdoor concerts and as many Porta-Potties as they can manage to secure. Among the biggest star parties lined up are the Oregon Solarfest in Madras, the Moonshadow Festival in Prineville and the Oregon Eclipse Festival in the Ochoco Mountains.
Closer to home, Oregon State University is planning three days of festivities on its Corvallis campus and opening up hundreds of dorm rooms for rent by visiting eclipse-chasers.
The family-friendly event starts on Saturday with a photography class, science exhibits and activities, lectures, a barbecue and cocktail party, an outdoor movie and stargazing with an OSU astronomer. Sunday’s slate of activities will be capped by an outdoor rock and soul concert, and the whole shebang will wrap up on Monday with an eclipse viewing party on the university’s intramural sports fields. Most activities are free, and all are open to the public.
Dubbed the OSU150 Space Grant Festival: A Total Eclipse Experience, it’s being billed as the kickoff event in the university’s yearlong 150th anniversary celebration. It’s also a chance for the school to tout its scientific expertise and brag a little about its status as a NASA Space Grant institution.
Jill Peters, the university’s eclipse coordinator, has ordered 35,000 pairs of OSU-orange eclipse viewing glasses for the occasion and says she’s looking forward to spreading the word about the school’s work in such areas as astronomy, robotics and aerospace engineering.
“This is a fabulous opportunity for us to do that public outreach and get people excited about space exploration, astronomy and related fields,” Peters said. “We have these incredible activities going on here that people don’t even know about.”
The Corvallis Parks & Recreation Department is planning a three-day bash of its own at the Crystal Lake Sports Fields, which are being opened up to camping for the occasion. The city is offering 550 tent and RV sites for Saturday and Sunday nights at $200 a pop.
Benton County is making 150 tent sites and a dozen RV spaces available in Adair County Park at a two-night rate of $100, and the county recently instituted a permitting process for farmers and other private landowners who want to host large eclipse watching gatherings on their property.
At Marys Peak, a 4,097-foot summit in the Coast Range west of Corvallis, the Forest Service has taken steps to manage an expected onslaught of visitors by instituting a permit system that will limit the number of private vehicles on the mountain to just 89 on the day of the eclipse. The only permanent campground on the peak will be taken up by Forest Service employees, emergency services personnel and volunteers, although about a dozen tent sites are being made available at what is normally a day-use area.
To accommodate eclipse viewers, the agency has contracted with a couple of local businesses to provide charter bus service to the summit on the big day. Mudslinger Events and Cascadia Expeditions are planning to ferry 1,000 people from Corvallis to the peak and back at $85 a head.
And for people who want a high-end eclipse experience, there’s another option as well: a deluxe camping package with a catered farm-to-table dinner, stargazing and a professionally guided viewing of the eclipse. Limited to about 30 people, the package is priced at $750 per person.
Area wineries are also getting into the act. To cite just a few examples:
Tyee Wine Cellars is holding a weekend campout with live music for $160 per person, including meals, at its vineyard south of Corvallis.
Eola Hills Wine Cellars west of Salem is putting together camping and room packages with a variety of activities including a gourmet “field and vine” dinner and a VIP concert. Some of the campsites are free, but high-end packages go for as much as $2,900.
And Emerson Vineyards near Airlie is planning an eclipse festival with space for 36 RVs at $350 for the weekend. The vineyard can also accommodate about 50 passenger vehicles the day of the eclipse at $10 apiece.
In Albany, the local American Legion post is planning to host an eclipse viewing party at the airport, with tickets going for $60 for adults, $30 for youths and free for kids 5 and under. But space is limited, according to Tony Hann, who owns Infinite Air Center, the airport’s fixed-base operation: “I don’t think they’ll be able to accommodate more than 200 people,” he said.
Linn-Benton Community College is hosting an eclipse party and opening its soccer fields for camping at the rate of $40 per tent site for the weekend, but spaces are limited to current LBCC students until June 16. At that point, any remaining tent sites will be available to the general public at a cost of $100 each.
Mayor Sharon Konopa said she’s disappointed that there isn’t a larger-scale eclipse event in the works for her city.
“I think we need to designate an area for people to go to in Albany because otherwise people will just be parking any and everywhere,” she said.
Konopa has been floating the idea of holding an eclipse viewing party in the amphitheater at Timber-Linn Park, which can accommodate up to 25,000 people. But the celestial event falls less than two weeks after the end of the River Rhythms concert series and just days before the biggest local blowout of the summer, the ATI Northwest Art & Air Festival, a time when city parks staff is already overburdened.
“I just thought it would be ideal for a nonprofit to do as a fundraiser,” Konopa said. “But so far nobody I’ve seen has come up with a solid plan.”
In Lebanon, preparations are underway for Party in the Path, a three-day festival with camping and entertainment at Cheadle Lake Park in Lebanon.
And in Brownsville, the Bi-Mart Willamette Country Music Festival is adding some Monday events to its usual lineup to entice some campers to stay a little longer.
Anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000 people generally camp out at the four-day outdoor concert series in south Linn County, which features some of the biggest names in country music. Most of them usually hit the road about noon on Monday – just when the throngs of departing eclipse chasers are expected to be clogging Interstate 5.
To keep from adding to the mayhem on the freeway, the festival has put together a $25 Monday package for campers that includes the traditional firemen’s breakfast plus some bonus performances. Festival vendors will remain open and campers who choose to stick around can watch the eclipse directly with their complimentary viewing glasses or via video on the festival’s Jumbotron screen.
“We’ll go to midafternoon,” festival director Anne Hankins said.
The bottom line
The prospect of so many eclipse chasers flocking to the state has tourism officials licking their chops.
“We’re estimating at least a million in the path of totality,” said Linea Gagliano, head of communications for Travel Oregon. “It could be a lot more.”
The sheer number of visitors poses obvious challenges, but the tourism bureau is working to promote eclipse-related travel while coordinating with other government agencies to ensure traffic moves smoothly, basic services are provided and emergency responders are positioned to help if needed.
“We want to make sure that everybody gets that Oregon welcome mat,” Gagliano said. “We want to make sure that everybody has an incredible experience so they’ll want to come back and tell other people to come here, too.”
Here in the mid-valley, local officials are bracing to take a large share of the visitor impact.
“The estimate is about 500,000 people in the valley the weekend prior and the day of,” said Mary Pat Parker of Visit Corvallis.
“We have one gentleman coming in from Japan and he’s got 550 people coming in with him,” she added. “We’ll be hopping, that’s for sure.”
Like her counterparts at the state level, Parker is doing her best to promote local attractions — especially those that could entice tourists to stick around a little longer on Monday to spend a few more dollars and ease the traffic jam on area highways.
“I’m seeing a lot of creativity and ingenuity,” she said.
Jimmie Lucht of the Albany Visitors Association agrees.
“The longer we can keep these folks entertained and keep them in the area, the better it’s going to be for the economy,” Lucht said.
“I think this is such a huge economical thing that we ought to plan one every year.”