My Pulse News

Mena, Arkansas, News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

City and county officials illuminate plans for total eclipse

By Ethan Nahté

The fourth and final Great American Solar Eclipse of 2024 town hall meeting was held at the Ouachita Center on the UA Rich Mountain campus Thursday evening. The original meeting had been postponed due to inclement weather.

Approximately six to seven dozen people were in attendance, ranging from property owners looking to rent space for camping and RVing to those planning eclipse watch parties for one to four days. Several small business owners were also on hand.

The event began with the executive director of the Mena Polk County Chamber of Commerce, Melanie Wade, giving a PowerPoint presentation as she stood on a stage behind the panel of officials.

The presentation included some background about solar eclipses and the path of totality and the longest period of darkness for the 2017 total solar eclipse. That eclipse was visible from Polk County, as it was a very clear day, but Arkansas was just beneath the path of totality, stretching from Oregon to South Carolina with a 70-mile-wide swath cutting through Missouri and Kansas. The greatest duration of full darkness was 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

A survey by the University of Michigan stated 216 million adults viewed that eclipse either directly (with safety glasses) or electronically, including 88% of [North] American adults. The audience is one of the largest recorded for any scientific, athletic or entertainment event.

For the eclipse happening April 8, Polk County will be covered from one end to the other. Sevier County will have a few more seconds of total darkness than Polk County, but we will still have 4 minutes and 7 seconds of total darkness, weather and cloud cover permitting. The width of this total eclipse path will be 117.9 miles wide. At one point, the expected possibility of clouds was 30%-40%. That number has risen to 50% chance of cloud cover. Still, if that occurs, it doesn’t mean everyone will be incapable of viewing the eclipse. The annular eclipse that occurred Oct. 14, 2023, ended up being a bit of a bust on Rich Mountain at the last few minutes prior to the event, yet people around Lake Wilhelmina and Lake Ouachita had a great view. The less light pollution one had, the better the chance of viewing the eclipse unobstructed, but as Wade and the panel warned, be prepared for a lot of tourists.

Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) is predicting this will likely be the largest tourism event in Arkansas history, with an estimated 1.5 million people traveling from outside the state to Arkansas, in addition to about 500,000 Arkansans traveling closer to the path of totality. Polk Counties main arteries are expected to be anywhere from high traffic to extreme traffic areas between April 5-8 (give or take a day or two on either side of those dates).

Fred Ogden announced that Mena’s airport will probably have dozens of planes flying in, and possibly over 100, with events going on at the airport.

All of Polk County’s emergency agencies (e.g. city police, sheriff’s department, city employees, Southwest EMS, fire department, etc.) will all be on duty and none of the agencies are allowing time off. Each of the agencies will also be posting emergency stations throughout the county in anticipation of road congestion. If the sheriff’s office or ambulance service, for instance, has deputies or first aid stations in multiple locations and not all in one central location, it increases the chances of getting to an area where they are needed much quicker.
Also, to help prevent traffic congestion, all of the school districts in Polk County will be closed on April 8.

We will have a special tab for The Pulse that will give a list of various events as the event gets nearer. If you have an event planned, let the Chamber of Commerce or the Mena Advertising & Promotion know so they can add you to their growing online list. If you have vacancies (e.g. RV, air bnb, etc.) let them know. They have been receiving reports that people are staying outside of Mena because they believe there are no vacancies left in and around Mena.

Plan ahead
With the influx of people, plan ahead. Buy gasoline for your vehicle in advance of the tourists’ arrival. Otherwise, you may be sitting in a long line or stuck in traffic with no fuel.
The same goes for food and drinks. Buy your supplies a couple of weeks in advance instead of the week of the event when the stores are liable to be bought out and awaiting supplies for restock.

If you have special needs (e.g. prescriptions, baby items, medical conditions, pet food and supplies, batteries, flashlights, first aid kits, etc.) make sure you have stocked up. Don’t forget to check on your family and neighbors who might be at risk of a medical situation.

Have a communication plan such as a place to meet if you get separated from friends or family and keep cell phones fully charged. With the number of people coming to the area, be aware that cell and WiFi usage might be limited or very slow. Landlines might be a necessity or easier to use. Have a handy list of emergency contacts.

Make certain you are using proper eye protection. Purchase ISO 12312-2 compliant solar eclipse glasses. If you haven’t ordered glasses already you might be out of luck. Queen Wilhelmina State Park announced they had several pairs. Shelly Alston has some she is selling for her Solar Eclipse Festival if you go catch her events, including concerts, ziplining and more at The Blue; Zipline & Farm. There will possibly be vendors throughout town selling glasses at various places.

These are just a few suggestions for planning ahead for individuals and families. If you are a business owner, talk to your suppliers to make sure you’re stocked up or to ask them how long it will take to restock during that week.

Also, make sure you have plenty of change at least a couple of weeks in advance. With the possibility of internet issues, vendors will want to make certain they have plenty of cash to make change for customers.

If you have property you will allow visitors to park at, place an easy-to-read sign to notify drivers. If you do not want people on your property, place an easy-to-read sign that states “POSTED” or “NO TRESPASSING” in purple lettering no more than 100 feet apart. Be polite, don’t be rude or ugly. If someone parks or walks on your property, politely ask them to move on. If they don’t, call the sheriff or police. Do not get into an altercation.

The same goes for public restrooms. If your business will or will not offer public restrooms except to paying customers, post it where people entering can easily see the sign.

If you have dogs that don’t take to strangers, have them safely housed, fenced in, etc. and post signage. Also be aware that with the extra traffic and the temporary increase in visitors, make sure your pet is somewhere they feel safe and secure. The extra noise and traffic could make them anxious.

Take some pride
Clean up around your property if you have an unsightly yard or building. If the grass has begun to get high, cut it a few days before the event. Visitors seeing how beautiful the Ouachita Mountains are and how nice Mena can be will return. When they return, that means money going to businesses, but it also means tax dollars going to support the funding of county and city services, such as law enforcement and the fire department. Those tax dollars go to improve other infrastructure throughout the county. Even if you don’t own a business, their tax dollars help you.

This may be a once-in-a-lifetime event for many of you to see one of the sky’s greatest celestial events. The next total solar eclipse that can be seen from the contiguous United States will be Aug. 23, 2044. Twenty years is a long wait.

Be safe, wear eye protection, and if you’re looking through a telescope, binoculars or a camera, make certain you have the proper protection to prevent damage to your eyes and to the optics of your device. If you get some extraordinary photos we’d love to see them.

Take part in some of the activities happening in the area. There’s talk of professional and amateur astronomers going to be in the area, there’s several bands that will be performing with a wide range of music styles, there will be unique commemorative merchandise. Rock Creek Apparel had some really cool looking tumblers, T-shirts and other collectibles at the town hall meeting. If you’re a Pink Floyd fan, Walmart has a pretty cool shirt commemorating the event in Mena.

Above all, be safe and have fun. Odds are 80% of the crowd is predicted to leave within a couple of hours after the event ends and life can get back to Polk County’s version of normal.

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