Towns, villages, and parks prepare for an influx of eclipse watchers

As the region gets ready for the total solar eclipse on April 8, local officials and businesses are preparing for a large influx of people. 

Many towns in Ohio are in the path of totality, making them premiere spots to see this once-in-lifetime natural phenomenon. 

In Erie County, “The hotels are filling up,” says Tim Jonovich, Erie County Emergency Management Agency director. “Some of the campgrounds are even opening up. It’s going to be a little hectic out there.”

The good news for locals – in addition to the welcome boost to the economy - Jonovich stresses, is that Erie County, including Sandusky and surrounding towns, are accustomed to handling large crowds, such as during busy weekends with Cedar Point traffic, driving home after the Fourth of July fireworks, and have the infrastructure to handle them.

“I don’t think it’s going to be anything too major of concern,” Jonovich says. “They’re not predicting a lot of people having cross-traffic over that blackout zone. We’re definitely going to have people exiting. 

“They’re all probably going to be leaving Monday afterward. The roads will be a little busy for a while. They’ll probably get out of our area rapidly and then will disperse.”

As a popular destination in the spring, summer, and early fall, Sandusky and Erie County are used to crowds of visitors and vehicle traffic and have the number of gas stations, restaurants, and stores to accommodate the influx, he says. The area’s hotels also regularly fill up.

“Our infrastructure is much more hardened for that,” Jonovich says. “It’s nothing unusual to any area when they have large-scale events. Luckily, we’ve been built up for everyday Cedar Point traffic, but a lot of our resources are more robust than other areas that don’t see the tourism influx that we do.”

The EMA is working with local partners to ensure additional emergency service personnel are available that day and are asking businesses to make sure they have plenty of stock on hand for the public, from gas to groceries. Area schools also have closed for the day, which will keep school buses out of the traffic.

Those who don’t like driving in heavy event traffic or going to the store when people are stocking up before a big storm should gather supplies and fill their gas tanks early, he says. 

Additionally, anyone planning to view the eclipse should make sure to have eclipse glasses, because looking at the sun can cause irreparable damage the eyes. Information on eclipse glasses is available here

Shores and Islands Ohio also is giving away eclipse glasses at its welcome centers. 

The Ohio Emergency Management Agency is urging travelers and locals to have a plan for potential problems the eclipse could create. Some of those recommendations are based on issues that arose after the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse that spanned states from the Pacific to Atlantic coasts. 

Jonovich points out that many of the challenges reported were in rural areas in states like Kentucky and Tennessee, where gas stations and stores were much farther apart. 

This is an exciting event, and Ohio EMA wants people to be prepared and plan ahead, says Sandy Mackey, Ohio EMA public affairs chief. 

“You’ve heard the phrase ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best,’” Mackey says. “We think that is the right mindset as planning is the first step to preparedness. With an event this rare and the pathway being straight through Ohio, we certainly expect traffic to be heavy in the days leading up, the day of, and a couple of days after the eclipse.”

Ohio EMA encourages travelers to map out their route, have a travel plan, and consider arriving early and staying an extra day to avoid traffic jams. 

“While we are expecting traffic congestion, we are not aware of any concerns with any specific roadways,” Mackey says. “We encourage folks to plan their route, keep their gas tanks topped off, and have a backup route planned. Also, pack a paper map.”

And with traveling anywhere, it’s important to have an emergency kit with things like snacks, bottled water, a flashlight, phone charger, and any medications needed. Make sure your vehicle is in good working order, and fill your gas tank often, she says. 

The full list of Ohio EMA recommendations can be found here.
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