Catching the 2017 total solar eclipse on the Great Plains

Nebraska is the state to be in on the Great Plains for the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse. The path of totality sweeps across the Cornhusker State from northwest to southeast, catching just a small northeastern corner of Kansas as it sweeps on toward the Atlantic Ocean. The Great American Eclipse website has listed the Nebraska sandhills among the best spots along the path of totality for viewing the eclipse.

In Stapleton, a town of 300 people about 30 miles north of North Platte, they’re billing the event as the “Eclipse on the Range.” They’ve determined that the centerline of the eclipse path crosses the Augusta Wind Golf Course about a mile south of town. In fact, it goes right over an outhouse that sits between the number 4 and number 7 tee boxes on the nine-hole course.

“We would consider that the most prime viewing spot,” said Gary Johnsen, a retired science teacher who is the eclipse coordinator in Stapleton. We agreed it would be a shame to be stuck inside the outhouse during the two minutes and 33 seconds of totality that will happen in Stapleton. The town’s other main viewing site will be the Logan County Fairgrounds on the east end of town.

Cattle tanking in the Nebraska sandhills

Cattle tanking in the Nebraska sandhills. These tanks are usually filled with water for cattle on ranches, but they make fine vessels as well. Photo courtesy Gary Johnsen.

Despite its small size, Stapleton is going all out. The Logan County Rodeo, usually at the end of August, has been moved up to the week before the eclipse to take advantage of the expected up-tick in visitors. In addition to the rodeo, other events in the works for pre-eclipse week include a breakfast and barbecue, wild horse racing, a street dance, beer garden, and a working ranch rodeo. They’re also offering cattle tank rides on the South Loup River. Sunday before the eclipse there will be on open-air, non-denominational church service at the fairgrounds, and in the evening local resident Derryl Barr, who has seen quite a number of total solar eclipses, will make a presentation about what to expect.

Visitor crunch

Stapleton isn’t sure how many visitors will show up. Johnsen said they’ve heard guesses for anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000.

“If we get the upper number, the 10,000, we would probably be scrambling really, really hard to find places for people to stay,” Johnsen said. There are no motels in the town, but it is working on increasing the number of RV hookups available. Some residents may rent out rooms in their homes, or offer use of their own RVs or campers. They’re also working with the North Platte/Lincoln County Visitors Bureau to identify lodging opportunities in the area.

Johnsen said the golf course site features unobstructed 360-degree views, and the projection is for a 75 percent chance of clear skies that time of year.

“We have a very, very good viewing site, a very high probability of being able to view it,” he said. “Plus we’re on highway 83 which runs basically from Canada to Mexico, and we have access roads that run east of us, so if for some reason we would be cloudy (eclipse chasers) would be able go east very easily.”

Other Nebraska events

Muriel Clark at the visitors bureau noted that a number of other communities have plans as well. The city of Alliance is planning a major celebration at CarHenge, and yes, that’s just what it sounds like; a model of Stonehenge made with cars. It’s an astronomical theme! Scottsbluff and Gering will be hosting an event, likely at Scotts Bluff National Monument. The community of Kearney is partnering with the village of Ravenna for viewing festivities. Grand Island will host an event at the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. York is partnering with Wessels Living History Farm, Lincoln will seek to fill the University of Nebraska Cornhusker’s Memorial Stadium to view the eclipse, and the city of Beatrice is partnering with Homestead National Monument for the  Darkness on the Prairie viewing event.

Eclipse in Kansas

ASKCOnly a small corner of Kansas gets totality, including part of the city of Kansas City, which is half within the path and half out. Jackie Beucher, an officer of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC) as well as the Mid-States Region of the Astronomical League, has led eclipse excursions all over the world, and is delighted that this time she won’t have to brave rough seas, remote areas, and language challenges. The ASKC will be involved with Michael Bakich of Astronomy magazine and Front Page Science at an eclipse-day event at Rosecrans Memorial Airport in St. Joseph, Missouri. Front Page has leased the whole airport for eclipse day and will host free public viewing, complete with astronomy experts and lots of solar telescopes for viewing the Sun before and after totality.

“We expect huge crowds,” Beucher said.

The ASKC is working with area schools and libraries to educate people about the eclipse, and is busy with its own outreach, too.

“We’ve already started giving eclipse programs at our observatories every night they’re open,” Beucher said.

Planning ahead is important, Beucher said. The down side for the great access to this total solar eclipse is that a lot of places, expecially in more rural areas, may not be ready for the crunch.

“These little municipalities along the path of the eclipse, they’re just going to be just slammed with people,” Beucher said. “There are 200 million people that live within 80 miles on each side of the eclipse across the country,” she pointed out, raising the possibility of huge traffic jams and a scramble for accommodations. A little advance work will be well worth it, she said.

“The experience is incredible, it is mind changing, mind lifting like you wouldn’t believe,” said Beucher of total solar eclipses. “I have goose bumps right now just talking about it.”

Podcast of our interviews with Beucher and Johnsen:

3 thoughts on “Catching the 2017 total solar eclipse on the Great Plains

  1. NationalEclipse.com

    Thanks for this profile on Nebraska and Kansas. The towns you mention are definitely ahead of the curve and the many other localities along the path are going to have to play catch-up…and the clock is ticking!

  2. Michael Zeiler

    Very nice profile of eclipse events and planning in Nebraska and Kansas, keep it up! I’ll share this blog post on our Facebook page. BTW, you have permission to use maps from my website, greatamericaneclipse.com, in blog posts like these. Regards, Michael Zeiler

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