From Seattle we’ll have to drive about 200 miles south to get to the edge of the path of totality for the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017. The north edge of the path will cross I-5 near Aurora, Oregon. In St. Louis, the edge of the path cuts right through town. It sounds convenient, but Don Ficken, who chairs the St. Louis Eclipse 2017 Task Force, said there are disadvantages.
“St. Louis is, in many ways, blessed by the fact that we have an eclipse coming through at least the southern part of the city,” Ficken said. “In other ways it’s a challenge. It’s not like Nashville where it’s going through the core; it’s basically just hitting the edge of the city.”
The northern edge of the path of totality almost cuts St. Louis in half, with the south and west sides of the city being in, while the north and east sides are not. Many big attractions in St. Louis, such as the Gateway Arch, Forest Park, Busch Stadium, the Zoo, and the St. Louis Science Center all lie outside the path of totality, while those inside the path will experience a shorter eclipse of a minute or less.
“When we talk with the main core of the city, it’s kind of hard for them to get real excited when they’re really on the edge of the eclipse,” Ficken said.
Thus, for the St. Louis area, the focus of eclipse planning has been on the more rural areas that are deeper into the path of totality of the eclipse. They began their work in 2014 but really got going in earnest at a workshop last fall.
“We decided up front that we were planning to inspire—in other words get people excited about it, educate and tell them about what’s going on, and then of course connect them to the resources, but we do not want to plan any events,” Ficken said. “We’re simply trying to raise awareness and do everything we can to get the region ready.”
The task force created teams that work with the many different counties and municipalities within the eclipse path. The St. Louis Astronomical Society, of which Ficken is a member, has been doing its part. Last weekend the club had a booth, for the first time, at the Spirit of St. Louis Air Show. They’re doing other outreach in an effort to reach at least 25,000 people with information about the eclipse. Part of the outreach is linked to their library telescope program, which has made 88 scopes available for checkout from area public libraries.
“We are doing programs, working with the public in the libraries right within their communities,” Ficken said. “Not only do we explain how the telescope works, but we talk about the solar eclipse coming up.”
Their best prop is a display map of the eclipse path, which Ficken said really grabs people’s attention and interest. They get to see what is coming their way.
“We’re going to be doing a ton of outreach to raise the visibility, which will then create, we think, more pressure to actually plan actual events,” he said. The work is beginning to pay off.
Don Ficken. Photo: LinkedIn.
“Particularly the rural areas are so juiced on this thing; they’re excited, I mean really excited,” Ficken said. “This is like the biggest thing that’s probably ever going to happen to some of them and they’re on the map. Particularly little towns like Festus and Perry County; Perryville is just going bonkers down there with their planning. It’s like the biggest event forever for these guys down there.”
St. Louis is a great choice as an eclipse viewing destination, according to Ficken. As a major metropolitan area, there’s a lot to do there. Come eclipse Monday, it’s an easy drive to go south or west to get deeper into the path of totality, with center-line towns just 30 to 40 minutes away.
“You’ve got plenty of time to get where you want to, get all settled in, and just have some fun,” Ficken noted. “For those who want to just make an easy trip, have a great weekend, have some fun, add a third day on to make it a three-day weekend, we’re really perfectly suited for that.”
Many towns and businesses within the eclipse path have committed to having events for the eclipse, though a significant number of them haven’t settled on the details yet. As they’re confirmed, they’ll be posted on the St. Louis Eclipse 2017 website. Ficken expects the interest to snowball.
“We’re excited, we have lots of great stuff going on, but I expect a lot more to happen as we get into fall and the media starts picking up on this,” Ficken said. “It will be crazy.”
Podcast of our interview with Don Ficken: