Southern Illinois Preparing Now for 2017 Eclipse Tourists


solar eclipse, southern illinois, Carbondale, SIU, Southern Illinois University

Southern Illinois Preparing Now for 2017 Eclipse Tourists

Tourism officials in southern Illinois say they’re already preparing for the Aug. 21, 2017, solar eclipse, which is expected to draw thousands of visitors.

It’s the first total solar eclipse over the United States’ mainland since 1979, and the eclipse will reach its point of greatest duration — about two minutes and 40 seconds — a few miles south of Carbondale.

Southern Illinois University officials are projecting 30,000 to 50,000 visitors on campus for the eclipse. The school even has created an eclipse planning committee and put Bob Baer, who directs public astronomy observations through SIU’s physics department, in charge.

“It’s a really, really big project. It’s hard to overstate how big of a project it is,” he said. “It is probably the biggest event that will be at SIU in most people’s lifetime.”

Tourism officials in nearby Williamson County are working to market the region and make sure local businesses are aware of potential increased visitors. Shannon D. Johnson, CEO of the county’s tourism bureau, said its important to prepare for the eclipse’s popularity.

“It is definitely more than any of us could have possibly fathomed,” Johnson said.

A $42,000 federal rural development grant is pending to help with planning and marketing.

Blue Sky Vineyards in Makanda is directly in the eclipse’s centerline. The bed and breakfast’s marketing director, Brandy Nance, said it is getting interest from all over about accommodations.

“I mean all over the state,” Nance said. “We’ve had some from China that have called in. They’re from everywhere.”

Scientists from around the world are interested too. Baer said the school has been coordinating with NASA, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and other universities.

The similar eclipse will happen again, but not until April 8, 2024.

North America’s last total solar eclipse was Feb. 26, 1979. According to a Chicago Tribune story the next day, people in the city and suburbs were able to see about 80 percent of the total eclipse.

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