Almost everywhere you look from Idaho Falls to Rexburg, someone is advertising Eclipse Parking spaces. These include farm fields to large box store parking lots to personal driveways. On Sunday afternoon, however, most of the spaces were vacant.
Traffic along I-15 in southeast Idaho was much lighter than expected Sunday afternoon ahead of Monday’s solar eclipse. Predictions by numerous officials suggested as many as 500,000 people could be flooding into southeast Idaho’s path of totality, which stretches between Idaho Falls to Ammon.
In Rexburg, mayor Jerry Merrill says his community has been preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.
“We’ve planned for about 18 months with extra everything: extra police protection, extra ambulance and EMS,” Merrill explained. “We even have an extra life-light helicopter lined up in case of emergencies. We’ve stationed our firefighters around different areas so they can respond quicker, just trying to anticipate any issues or problems we might have.”
But many of those anticipated problems may not materialize with smaller-than-expected crowds.
“When I was driving around I noticed the streets and the commercial parking lots were fairly quiet but all the church parking lots were overflowing,” Merrill observed Sunday afternoon. “That tells me that a lot of people have family and friends coming that were staying with them in their homes and they went to church this morning.
“We think a lot of the people are coming this afternoon and this evening, or maybe even (Monday) morning, which is probably not a great idea. But I’m sure there will be a lot of people that will try that.”
If large crowds of people do arrive, Riverside Park is the place for them to gather. Not only has Riverside Park in Rexburg been converted into an area to get food and special memorabilia, it also features a large tent for music performances and a tent city for campers. Merrill said 250 sites were reserved for Monday’s eclipse.
“We thought this would be an ideal place for eclipse viewing because it is so open,” said Merrill. “Our chamber of commerce took the lead on this vendor village. There are a lot of food vendors, it’s an art show, a lot of arts and crafts vendors selling their wares, a lot of people with eclipse t-shirts and that kind of memorabilia, and a lot of food, a lot of good fair food.
“It’s a lot of fun. They will be here through (Monday), late (Monday). It’s not too late to jump in the car, get up here, watch the eclipse and have some fun.”
Utah State University Observatory Director James Coburn spoke to members of the Logan Rotary Club recently and said that Idaho Falls, Rigby and Rexburg are communities that are prime areas for the eclipse as they are in what is referred to as the path of totality, when the moon will completely block out the sun.
“From the time the moon starts to cover the sun until it’s off again is about three hours,” Coburn explained. “When it gets to the smallest point, when the sun looks like a crescent, it will be interesting. That’s when everyone likes to look.”
He said in the Rexburg area, the sun will be blocked by the moon for approximately two minutes and 14 seconds staring at around 11:30 a.m. Carbondale, Illinois will have the longest view of the eclipse, Coburn said, with two minutes and 41 seconds of total, mid-day darkness.
The temperature will drop 8-10 degrees during the eclipse and people will be able to see stars and planets they never normally get to see in the sky.
Coburn has set up at Rigby Lake with several USU students and special telescopes on hand. He said the eclipse will begin at approximately 10:15 a.m. Monday and conclude at 1 p.m. In Cache Valley, 95% of the sun will be obscured by the moon and anyone wanting to view the eclipse will need special solar glasses or a #14 welding lens.
For those who do make the trip to southeast Idaho to view the eclipse, getting home could take a while. But Merrill promises that local and state emergency officials have plans in place to make the exodus as smooth as possible.
“A lot of people are making a vacation out of it. They may not all try to evacuate at once, but I’m sure there will be a lot that will need to get back for school and things,” Merrill explained. “None of our police are on vacation. We don’t have shifts, everybody is on for tomorrow.
“They will be at the major intersections directing traffic to make sure everything moves as smoothly as possible for people to get gone if they want to be gone.”
Coburn said the next eclipse to happen in the lower 48 states will be in 2024, with much of it happening in Texas. In 2045 an eclipse will go through Salt Lake City, but only partially in Logan. The next total eclipse opportunity for Logan: 2169.