Influx of eclipse visitors will need lodging

Editor’s note: This article is part of a News-Register series leading up to the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.
Aurora’s location in the center of the total solar eclipse path next month is expected to draw thousands of visitors to the area, creating both an opportunity and a challenge for the community.
For small communities along the eclipse path it can be tricky to figure out the most sensible way to handle the influx of visitors. In the state of Nebraska alone, the expectation of visitors to the center path of the eclipse ranges anywhere between 100,000-500,000 people. While a certain percentage of those are other Nebraskans traveling closer to the path’s center, a lot of the communities getting visitors can expect a doubling of population overnight.
Among the businesses to experience the surge of people are the local hotels and lodging establishments.   
“We have been hearing from folks for the last several months,” said Ken’s Motel owner Jayne Mann. “Some were just questioning, but now we are nearly booked full. We are pretty certain we will be full before that weekend. Aurora and Hamilton County have done a great job setting up a project for the community to enjoy.”
Locations in Oregon, where some of the higher numbers of visitors are expected, have reported hotels charging $1,000 a night or more. These high rates can also prompt travelers to seek a more affordable option in the smaller communities like those in Hamilton County.
Places like The Leadership Center have a variety of options still available for eclipse gazers, including their traditional hotel accommodations as well as cabins and a tenting area with approximately 20 spots.
“We had people calling and booking last year,” said TLC event coordinator Micheala Olsen. “The University of Minnesota booked last fall and we also have people from California and Texas coming to stay that week.”
Olsen reported that a wedding party from Mexico has already booked nearly half of their total rooms, while another 20 have been booked by other visitors, leaving only 5-10 rooms left.
“We are also allowing tenting on the property,” Olsen continued. “This is our first tenting experience which we plan on having on the open green space in front of the cabins. If guests decide they want to stay with us they have full access to the property. We will also have portable showers and bathrooms for our tent guests.”
Since The Leadership Center is hosting a community eclipse event on Aug. 21, parking will only be available to guests staying at the facility.
With indoor facilities expected to be limited or even unavailable for travelers, an increase in RV and tent camping visitors may occur. Places like nearby Pioneer Trails and even some of the city parks expect to be full of campers from Nebraska and other parts of the country.
“I think the community will be very full with campers and tents and relatives,” Mann said. “I know there is a little bit of that going on during the event as well.”
While nearby cities like Grand Island are expecting to see anywhere from 5,000-35,000 visitors, there is a possibility Aurora might see an overflow effect depending on the estimated increase. With the traditional indoor and outdoor lodging facilities looking to be full, another option for the astronomical event visitors could come from the private citizens of Hamilton County.
Bed and breakfast companies like Airbnb have been seeing an increase in listings for the Aug. 20 evening before the big event. Hamilton County is no different as a growing number of residents are looking to rent out a room or even their whole house in a bid to be a friendly host while making some extra money on the side. People interested in opening their house up to tourists could see hundreds if not thousands of dollars being offered for their hospitality.
“There are probably a lot of folks out there waiting to see how it shakes out and where’s the place to be,” Mann added.

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