GREENFIELD — Less than two months remain until tens of thousands of people descend upon Hancock County to view the total solar eclipse April 8.
Brigette Jones, director of the Hancock County Tourism & Visitors Center, hosted three public information sessions Thursday to help people know what to expect.
“This is international news. There will be people from all over the world coming to see this eclipse,” said Jones, who hosted the sessions at the H.J. Centre for the Arts in Greenfield.
This year’s total solar eclipse is a rare phenomenon that won’t happen again locally until August 2044.
The last such eclipse in North America was the “Great American Eclipse” in 2017, for which the path of totality stretched all the way from the west to the east coast.
The path of totality refers to the track of the moon’s shadow across the earth’s surface, which provides the greatest viewing area for a solar eclipse.
Hancock County sits very near the exact center of the path for the upcoming eclipse — with the closest center point in nearby Knightstown.
Due to its prime location, Jones said Hancock County should be prepared for anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 people to visit county, which has a population of roughly 82,000 people.
When the 2017 eclipse occurred, it made a huge impact on cities and towns within the path of totality.
Jones said residents, businesses and first responders need to be prepared for an influx of visitors like never before.
Local hotels are already charging premium rates and expected to sell out, she said, while event organizers are finding they have to look out of state if they haven’t yet secured porta-potties.
Greenfield hotel rooms are selling for $350 a night, although they might go as high as $500, said Jones.
“All 10 of our hotels will be at capacity. All of our campgrounds will be at capacity,” she said.
Jones said Hancock County is using Hopkinsville, Ky. as the model for gauging what to expect for the eclipse.
The city of 30,000 people — 80 miles south of Evansville — welcomed more than 100,000 visitors countywide when it was in the path of totality for the eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017.
“They had 100 private planes fly into their airport, and we’re expecting the same at the Indianapolis Regional Airport in Mt. Comfort,” said Jones.
“They also had over 15 media outlets onsite — including the BBC, CBS, CNN, NPR, Telemundo, Tokyo Broadcast System and the Wall Street Journal — and we’re probably going to see some of that,” she said.
Jones also discussed the traffic jams that will no doubt occur surrounding the eclipse, especially as people try to head back home after the event, which falls on a Monday.
“Traffic is going to be atrocious,” Jones said.
During the 2017 eclipse in Hopkinsville, “travel times that normally took an hour were taking four to six hours, so you can expect to see that here,” she said.
County officials are encouraging everyone to “go early, stay put and stay late” to help things flow as smoothly as possible.
All four Hancock County school systems have canceled classes or switched to e-learning for the day, and employers throughout the county have been encouraged to consider how the eclipse and its related traffic congestion will impact their business that day.
Jones shared that her husband, who travels as a water softener repairman, has already taken the day off to avoid the hassle.
To manage traffic flow and public safety, anyone hosting an event for more than 50 people in Hancock County is required to register with the county to aid in the planning for emergency services that day.
Several events are listed at EclipseInHancock.org, including watch parties at Community Christian Church in New Palestine, Denver’s Garage in Fortville, Scarlett Lane Brewing in McCordsville, as well as a campout at Fairview United Methodist Church in Fountaintown.
Greenfield Parks is hosting “Total Eclipse of the Parks” viewing events at its four largest parks, with most programming concentrated at Depot Street Park in downtown Greenfield, including food trucks, music, activities and a panel of planetary science experts.
No matter where visitors view the eclipse, Jones said they will make a huge impact on the county’s economy.
“Christian County (home to Hopkinsville, Ky.) saw an economic impact of $28.6 million from the 2017 eclipse,” she said.
“People have to eat your food and stay in your hotels. They’ll want to buy things and get the T-shirt, and will be looking for something to do. If you own a restaurant or a business or farmland, this is your opportunity to cash in on that,” she said.
“This is our chance to put Hoosier Hospitality into practice,” said Jones, pointing out that Hopkinsville saw a number of return visitors among those who went there to view the eclipse.
“A lot of people came back for a second visit because they had such a nice time, and that’s what we want to see here. We want repeat visitors,” she said.
Mitchell Kirk, communications director for Hancock Economic Development Council, said April 8 will no doubt be the county’s time to shine.
“There are going to be a lot of people here who are going to be seeing all the great things we have to offer for the first time. Ideally, that would plant a seed in at least some of their minds about coming back here to visit or even buy a home or start a business,” he said.
Local screenprinter Charlie Vetters, of Organic Robot Design in Greenfield, has already been enjoying an uptick in business due to the eclipse.
He’s printed a number of eclipse-related shirts, and sold several to people leaving the Thursday’s information sessions at the Ricks Centre, which is across the street from his shop.
“Last week I had calls every day about eclipse shirts,” said Vetters, who prints shirts for a wide number of businesses and nonprofits.
The Friday before the eclipse he plans to print shirts onsite at Wooden Bear Brewing Co. in Greenfield, which is hosting a party with the release of a special eclipse-themed beer April 5.
The day of the eclipse Vetters and his team will be cranking out shirts at his auxiliary shop on the outskirts of Depot Street Park.
“I think the park is going to draw a lot of people because it’s a public, central space,” said Vetters, who anticipates visitors will also be spending time perusing the shops in downtown Greenfield.
The total eclipse will last about four minutes near the center of the path of totality, but the partial eclipse will last 2 ½ hours, “so people will be looking for something to do,” he said.
To keep up to date on Hancock County’s planning efforts and local eclipse events, visit EclipseinHancock.org.