HANCOCK COUNTY — The much-anticipated Great North American Eclipse — which will plunge Hancock County into nearly four minutes of daytime darkness — is less than five months away.
The big event is expected to take place around 3 p.m. April 8.
Hancock County tourism director Brigette Cook Jones has a countdown to the eclipse posted on a special website — EclipseinHancock.org — which has been set up as a “one stop shop” of eclipse information for both residents and guests.
Since the county is within the “path of totality” — where viewers can witness a full eclipse for the longest period of time — county officials are expecting a huge onslaught of guests.
When the Great American Eclipse took place in 2017, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the path of totality to witness the event.
Jones said one such city — Hopkinsville, Ky., which has 30,000 residents — saw 116,000 visitors that day, and that Hancock County could have similar crowds.
“They had a $28.5 million economic impact from the eclipse, and more importantly they had return visitors and even new residents as a result of their eclipse experience,” said Jones.
Local city and county officials, nonprofits and other organizations have been busily planning for the impending influx of visitors, with officials working to finalize plans to ensure that people and traffic make their way around the county as safely as possible.
A countywide plan will be presented for approval by the Hancock County Commissioners Nov. 21.
One county employee involved with the plan knows just how chaotic a total solar eclipse site can be.
Miriam Rolles, who works for county highway department, was in the center of the path of totality for the Great American Eclipse in 2017 when she watched the event from her sister’s front yard in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
“It was the most beautiful, surreal thing I’d ever seen. It literally looks like the eye of God is looking down on you,” said Rolles, referring to the image of the blacked-out sun rimmed in a circle of fire as it’s blocked by the moon.
“It was just miraculous, just unbelievable. I started seeing the stars, but it was in the middle of the day. The crickets came out because all the animals thought it was time to go to bed,” she said.
The Great American Eclipse lasted for roughly two minutes in the center of the path of totality, but the upcoming eclipse will last over four minutes in the path’s center — which runs from Knox County on the west side of Indiana to Randall County to the east.
Hancock County sits just north of the center line, which runs right through the southeast corner where it connects with Shelby and Rush counties.
With such close proximity, Cook Jones said local residents, first responders and businesses should brace for a flood of out-of-town guests.
Rolles is relying on her experience viewing the last eclipse in Bowling Green to help county officials know what to expect.
Since the 2017 eclipse happened on a Monday, Rolles joined tens of thousands of travelers in trying to head out soon after the event was over.
“I soon discovered that wasn’t going to happen,” she said.
Rolles found herself and her son stuck in total gridlock, with a solid red line on her traffic app running all the way from Bowling Green to Indianapolis, warning drivers to find another route.
“Every lane headed north was bumper to bumper,” said Rolles, who opted to head back to her sister’s house to spend the night instead.
Since next year’s eclipse is also on a Monday, Rolles anticipates many people will be anxious to head back home so they can return to work the next day, but she and Jones both encourage travelers to stay a few additional hours — or spend the night — giving traffic a chance to clear.
“Traffic jams were horrible after the eclipse in Hopkinsville, where drive times out of the area quadrupled or worse,” said Jones. “We don’t want everyone leaving at once, so the plan is to encourage people to come early, stay late and stay put.”
Rolles encourages travelers to stock up on food, gas and water, and encourages retailers and restaurants to stock up as well.
“People ran out of gas leaving Kentucky and the gas stations ran out of gas. Some of the restaurants ran out of food. There wasn’t a lot of preparedness,” she said.
Despite the gridlock, Rolles encourages everyone to witness what many consider to be a life-changing event.
“It’s worth all the chaos to see it. I will say that,” she said.
While hotels and campgrounds are expected to be fully booked for miles around, Jones said local hotels have yet to book rooms for the eclipse because many are in a holding pattern to establish room rates.
Local retailers, however, are already setting plans in motion.
In Greenfield, Cynthia’s Hallmark is now selling eclipse branded products with the date, and Organic Robot Designs plans to sell special eclipse T-shirts and other items.
“This will really be a good time to come up with some unique items to sell or unique food combinations to create in honor of this special event, so I hope more retail and restaurant locations get on board,” said Jones, who encourages local retailers to take advantage of Hancock County’s official eclipse logo, which she can provide.
“Using it will create a consistent brand identity for our efforts and area,” she said.
An increasing number of venues are expressing plans to host watch parties or education events, said Jones, including the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds, Overlook at Briney Creek, Nameless Creek Youth Camp, Lark Ranch, Piney Acres, The Depot restaurant and Greenfield Parks.
“It is our hope that we can be the hub of information for both those planning to be a viewing site and those planning tourism events,” said Jones.
She encourages event organizers to contact the Hancock County tourism office for help with planning and promoting such events throughout the county.
“By funneling all of this info through tourism, our website will be a one-stop-shop for information for planners and ultimately visitors,” she said.
To keep up to date on county’s planning efforts and local eclipse events, visit EclipseinHancock.org.