Madras, Oregon has won the weather jackpot for the total solar eclipse that will sweep across the United States in August 2017. As Mr. Eclipse, Fred Espenak, pointed out in a talk in Seattle in January, the town of 6,500 people in Central Oregon has, statistically, the best chances for clear skies on eclipse day of any place along the eclipse path.
“I just don’t know that you could find a more picturesque place to view it,” said Kelly Simmelink, the organizer of the Oregon SolarFest, noting that Madras is in the high desert and is surrounded by nine volcanoes. “Our weather here from basically the middle of June on is picture perfect.”
Simmelink came up with the idea of SolarFest to make sure more people are able to catch the eclipse.
“People that are really, really true eclipse chasers started booking this stuff two years ago,” Simmelink said. “Our little city here has approximately 328 hotel rooms. Those have been off the books for quite some time.”
Local resorts are pretty well spoken for as well. Oregon SolarFest is offering the chance for RV hookups and dry camping spots on the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
“Those are going to be the only full hookups available within 100 miles of here,” he said. They’ll be offering rental RVs for people who don’t have their own, and “easy camping” with loaner tents, sleeping bags, coolers and the like for people who don’t have or don’t want to lug their own camping gear.
“Those are just some of the little things that we’re trying to do to ensure that everybody that does choose Madras has somewhere to go,” Simmelink said.
Many people are booking rooms in nearby towns such as Bend, which is a little south of Madras, but Simmelink says that approach carries some risk. Two-lane highways 26 and 97 intersect in downtown Madras, and with 50,000 or more visitors expected in town traffic on eclipse day is likely to be extreme.
“That 45-minute trip could very well turn into six, seven, eight, nine, ten hours on the road,” Simmelink said. It might be tough to come in from elsewhere.
“If you think you’re going to be able to just drive in day of, you’re taking your own chance,” he said. “You’ll end up on Mt. Hood and not (see) a totality.”
To make it worth the stay, Oregon SolarFest plans a true festival in Madras. In addition to camping spots, they’ll be putting on a family fun event with music and entertainment, food booths, educational outreach led by NASA, and a beer garden. Simmelink says he’s lining up scores of porta-potties and other sanitation services, too.
“We’re going out of our way to make sure that we have almost double of everything that we possibly could need to ensure that everybody that comes to this town has a fantastic time and is happy with the way things were,” he said.
When he’s not chasing down all of those details or trying to get the festival’s website fully functional, Simmelink says he gets excited thinking about the eclipse. His office and the fairgrounds are just a quarter of a mile from the center of the eclipse path.
“It’s kind of awe-inspiring,” he said. “From our location where the festival is going to be, you couldn’t be any more ground zero.”
We’ll keep you posted about Oregon SolarFest as events develop.
Podcast based on our interview with Kelly Simmelink: