Community preparing for solar eclipse

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Emergency personnel, Chamber of Commerce prepare for hundreds of thousands visiting the area

As the days until the solar eclipse dwindles, the number of people expected to pour into Crook County continues to climb.

In fact, local leaders have struggled to determine just how many thousands will flock to the area for the rare Aug. 21 event. Michael Ryan, Crook County's Emergency Manager expected full motels and campgrounds throughout the area, and more than 17,000 people are planning to attend a weeklong event on Big Summit Prairie.

"But that does not take into consideration people coming from the (Willamette) Valley, spur of the moment, or people who are coming from out of state," he said.

Between all of those possibilities and a massive surge in dispersed camping, he and fellow emergency managers in Deschutes and Jefferson counties anticipate 700,000 to 800,000 people coming to Central Oregon. But given all the variables, Ryan admits it is "a big guess" at this point.

The solar eclipse, a rare event where the moon passes between the earth and the sun, will be viewable across a 67-mile wide path across the country, NationalEclipse.com states. That band includes Central Oregon, with the most optimal viewing available in Madras and Mitchell.

Locally, news of the eclipse prompted Symbiotic Experiences, a California-based event company, to plan a weeklong event on Big Summit Prairie. The music festival will feature five stages, two food areas, and two water tanks, and is billed as "an educational conference and festival-style event featuring a total solar eclipse, music, art and presentations with an ecological timeline." It will take place Aug. 17-23.

Landowner Craig Woodward said he was contacted by Symbiotic Experiences three years ago, well before much public discussion of the eclipse had occurred. He said that efforts to secure Forest Service or BLM land came up empty due to the fact it would take too long to complete an environmental impact statement or environmental analysis on the land.

"I wasn't very high on the idea at first," Woodward admits, "but with the economy being the way it has been… it just looked like an opportunity that may have just landed in our laps."

The company later visited the Big Summit Prairie site, he said, and fell in love with it. Meanwhile, Woodward took time to attend another Symbiotic Experiences event in California and found it to be very well managed. In addition, he has worked with the company to organize some charity events that will benefit Crook County High School sports, the Crook County Historical Society and other local organizations.

Symbiotic Experiences is expecting to feature several dozen acts during the weeklong festival, including live bands, world music, and the spectrum of house, techno, bass, downtempo and trance. Workshops will be held as well as yoga and dance classes, and permaculture and cooking classes.

To prepare for emergency management during the eclipse, Ryan and his fellow emergency managers in the tri-county area recently met with their respective county sheriffs.

"We gave them a briefing and laid out the management plan for the event that we have conceived," he said. "We are going to run three command centers, one in each county, and we'll run an incident management overhead team, location to be determined."

But emergency managers aren't the only ones preparing for the eclipse and the thousands of people it will bring to the area. The Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce is meeting with local businesses to encourage them to take advantage of a rare economic opportunity.

"Businesses might consider selling eclipse glasses or putting banners or signs out welcoming people," said Chamber Director Casey Kaiser. "One key thing is to think about what these people might want or need as they come through town."

Kaiser has suggested that grocery stores and other businesses make water and ice more readily available during the event, as well as outdoors supplies like sunscreen and insect repellent.

"We are really trying to encourage our businesses to think about it earlier rather than later," he said, "anticipating as we get close to the eclipse date that this demand for supplies and services will become more and more of an issue."