Planning for unknown size of eclipse crowds a challenge

Scientists have known for decades that the skies will grow dark over Hamilton County during a total solar eclipse Aug. 21, though the reality of this phenomenal event is just now starting to really sink in.
This is a big deal! How big? It hasn’t happened here in Central Nebraska for hundreds of years and it won’t happen again for hundreds more, so it is in fact a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for several generations.
While the excitement is building for events in Aurora and Hampton, so too is a bit of angst. The fact that the path of totality covers only a small sliver of America, passing through 12 states in a matter of hours, has some officials predicting that it could be one of the worst traffic days in U.S. history. Approximately 12 million people live within the narrow band of totality, though about 200 million reside within a day’s drive of it. Talk about a potential traffic jam. You do the math.
For community planners, it’s a logistical challenge trying to coordinate activities not know how many people might show up. Making sure there is plenty of parking, water, rest rooms, etc., etc., is hard to do when you don’t know if you’re planning for 500 or 5,000 guests. Offering food for that many is perhaps the biggest single risk, since a cloudy day could leave vendors with a whole lot of leftovers.
Dan Glomski, Aurora’s own self-proclaimed “eclipse evangelist,” has been psyched about this rare event since he saw the last one some 20 years ago. He started banging the drum a full year ago, hoping to build both understanding and excitement as to the rarity of having a front-row seat to such a unique spectacle.
Glomski reported last week that scientists are throwing themselves at this event from every angle, including projected attendance. By studying a grid of the nation’s highway infrastructure and the flow to and from communities near the center of the path, scientists are predicting anywhere from 17,000 to 71,000 people could show up for events between highways 281 in Grand Island and 81 in York. And oh by the way, those numbers could change drastically if the skies grow cloudy in other areas sending eclipse seekers toward Central Nebraska.
A local planning committee in Aurora has been meeting for months and is now fine-tuning the details for viewing events at both The Leadership Center and Hamilton County Fairgrounds. Volunteers will be needed, so if you are part of a group, organization or family that wants to be involved, reach out to the Edgerton Explorit Center at 402-694-4032 for more information.
If the skies are clear, this will no doubt be a day to remember in Hamilton County.
Kurt Johnson

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