For the past several weeks, we've read, listened and watched the build-up involved with the total solar eclipse. This coming Monday, it finally arrives and as I'm sure you know, Philomath is in the "path of totality."
Eclipse2017.org estimates that the partial eclipse will begin in Philomath just after 9:04 a.m. The total eclipse will begin at 10:16 a.m. (to be exact, 50 seconds past 10:16) and last for 1 minute, 34 seconds. Those times are based on the city's latitude and longitude and are reportedly accurate to within a couple of seconds.
It's uncertain exactly how much impact we're going to see locally, but entities and organizations at all levels are bracing for the worst. In general, it sounds like residents should just stay home, if possible, otherwise you might be stuck in traffic for hours.
Local officials, including emergency responders, have been planning ahead for possible impacts. They had a final meeting set up for Tuesday of this week to talk over final preparations.
"We're basically going to man all of our fire stations with people on site. At the main station, we'll have a fire crew and a medical crew," said Philomath Fire & Rescue chief Tom Miller, adding that the special staffing will be in place Saturday morning through Monday evening.
One of the biggest concerns involves the possibility for human-caused fires with the region experiencing extremely dry conditions. Another fear is that there will be a higher frequency of vehicle crashes with so many more motorists on the road.
"We're just adding staff — two extra patrol guys in case of emergencies on Sunday and Monday because of the supposed increase in traffic from OSU," Philomath police chief Ken Rueben said. "Other than that, we have what the city is doing with parking space for people who get stuck on the road to try to get them off the highway. We'll have special signage for people to get off the main drag if it's too congested."
Of course in Philomath, we've had to endure more transportation congestion than usual already this summer with the sewer and road project. K&E Excavating's Chris Terrell, the company's Philomath project manager, said Friday that his crew will not be working Monday.
K&E can't work on the section of Highway 20 going through town anyway because of the Oregon Department of Transportation's decision to suspend nearly all construction and nonemergency maintenance Aug. 18-22 on state highways. Still, K&E could've opted to get some work done on other local roads in Philomath, but decided to just stay home instead.
One scenario that we should all hope does not materialize involves the weather. If eclipse viewers wake up Monday morning to clouds on the Pacific Coast in Newport, you may see a rush of motorists headed down Highway 20 toward Philomath so they can try to see it inland. And that has the potential to be a very big mess. If you see a bad crash in that type of driving situation, the victims will not be easily reached and motorists will be stuck on the road for hours.
In response to the expected traffic congestion, the city of Philomath has ordered 100 signs to place around the community. A number of those signs will state "No Camping" and direct folks to the rodeo grounds or the Scout Lodge. Other signs will be directional to let drivers know where they can park.
Chris Workman, city manager, put together a map (seen here with this column) that illustrates parking and camping.
"It will point them to different areas where they can pull off and park instead of driving down residential areas," Workman said. "The city will be putting out those two different kinds of signs probably on the Friday before the eclipse."
The city has also been posting common eclipse-related questions and answers on its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/cityofphilomath). Through the end of last week, information includes whether or not RVs could be parked on the street for the weekend (answer: yes, if it's for fewer than five days) and if the street lights would come on during the eclipse (answer: yes, it would be cost prohibitive to disable the lights, so find a good viewing area away from them).
Various businesses in town have special events planned and I won't list all of those here, but it appears to be a good opportunity to bring in some money to make the summer season a little sweeter on the bottom line. Others will just enjoy the day and shut up shop.
City Hall will be closed Monday until noon. The Philomath School District will also not have any school-related activities, including sports team practices, on Monday. The library will be closed until 11 a.m., and not offer its Wiggly Wobbler Story & Play Time this Monday.
The most recent info on campsites showed Crystal Lake and Adair Village full and the same goes for the OSU dorms. But there’s still plenty of space at the Frolic & Rodeo grounds. The property can accommodate up to 1,000 campsites and heading into this week, had just 42 reservations.
Tent sites measuring 10-by-15 feet go for $100 and 30-by-40 feet RV and trailer sites are $150 for Saturday and Sunday night or only Sunday night, if needed.
The rodeo grounds will also be open for day parking starting Monday morning for people passing through town that just want an nice, open space to pull off the highway and park.
For the campsite reservation details, go to www.philomathrodeo.org/eclipse.
Oh, and don't forget your special viewing glasses. If you still don't have any, the Frolic & Rodeo has some to sell for $1 each at City Hall and the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Planning and preparing will give you alternatives for situations that may arise,” said Oregon State University Extension Service's Glenda Hyde. “Try not to stress out. Take a deep breath, relax and enjoy this special event.”
Still, I think a part of me will be happy when it's all over.