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Lights Out

Communities across Missouri and Illinois are abuzz with plans to celebrate this summer’s rare solar eclipse.

Where will you be on Aug. 21, 2017? It’s a question Americans will hear increasingly in the months ahead. On that day, a celestial event of epic proportions will punctuate the American sky from one coast to the other.

nature center

Above: Remington Nature Center is one of several sites in St. Joseph that will host viewing activities. Patrick P. Evenson/St. Joseph Convention & Visitors Bureau

In title: This will be the first solar eclipse only visible from the United States since before 1776. Igor Kovalchuk/fotolia.com

Below: Jefferson City, Mo., will host a viewing event on the state Capitol lawn. Jefferson City Convention & Visitors Bureau

Capitol Lawn

Most of the country will experience a less spectacular partial eclipse, but a rare, dramatic total solar eclipse will track diagonally across the country in a 67-mile wide band. The band stretches from Oregon to South Carolina through 14 states turning midday into what looks like a full moon night as it makes its way across the country. In the Midwest, the “path of totality” will sweep across Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and southern Illinois into Kentucky and the Southeast.

Those who have seen totality – when the moon crosses in front of the sun and completely blocks it– say it is a spectacle beyond compare. During that time, eclipse-watchers will be able to see the sun’s corona as daylight disappears and darkness falls for a brief time.

Eclipses happen all the time, but often over bodies of water or over land inhospitable to travelers, said Dr. Angela Speck, University of Missouri Columbia professor of astrophysics and co-chair of the 2017 National Eclipse Taskforce.

To understand how big a deal the upcoming solar eclipse is, consider:

• The August eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse on the continental U.S. since 1979, the first to cross the continent from ocean to ocean since 1918, and the first one visible from only the United States since before 1776, Speck said.

• The upcoming eclipse is Missouri’s first total solar eclipse since 1869, and for some cities like St Louis, Ste. Genevieve, and Perryville, it’s the first one since 1442, she said.

• During an eclipse visible in Mexico in 1991, officials had to close the international border because people flooded in, Speck said.

“This could be the biggest space event since the Apollo missions,” Speck said. Traffic jams could be massive. “Think about what it would be like in a city that wins the Super Bowl and the World Series at the same time, but it’s like that across a band of the country that’s 70 miles wide and 3,000 miles long,” she said. “That’s how busy it’s going to be.”

Plan ahead

It’s all about totality – the closer you are to the center of the path, the more seconds you see the moon blocking the sun.

Among the Missouri towns with a lengthy totality is St. Joseph, which is estimated to receive a whopping two minutes and 38 seconds, according to the website greatamericaneclipse.com. St. Joseph and Carbondale, Ill., are on the site’s list of 10 great places to see the eclipse. Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri’s two largest cities, will receive less totality, so eclipse-watchers may want to drive to Lathrop, Mo., in Clinton County, or to Festus or Ste. Genevieve in Missouri, both south of St. Louis.

Experts predict record turnouts of eclipse-watchers in the Midwest. Although 12 million people live on the path, 88 million live within 200 miles of it, Speck said.

While some people can step into their backyards to witness the phenomenon, others will drive hundreds, even thousands, of miles to see it. So-called “eclipse chasers,” these people have been known to rent cruise ships to observe totality at sea, and they are already snapping up hotel and motel rooms near the path of totality.

“Book now” is the advice from Carol Hoffman of the Southern Illinois Tourism Bureau. “If you’re traveling from a distance and you can find a place, book it,” she said. By late January, more than half of the area’s lodging was already sold out for the event, she said.

In St. Joseph, where officials have been told to expect between 50,000 and 500,000 eclipse watchers, Beth Carmichael of the St. Joseph Visitors Bureau said hotel pickings “are already getting slim. But we have a lot of primitive camping sites that have just opened up.” There will be about 700 sites at an event at the Rosecrans Memorial Airport, and another 200–300 sites at the Heritage Park softball complex, which is another primary watch location in St. Joseph.

Many communities are planning special eclipse events on Aug. 21 and the weekend before. Admission to some viewing areas will be free, while others have a charge. Here’s a sample of events. Predictions of length of totality and the time it can occur were updated at press time.

Missouri Events

Columbia (2:36 at 1:12 p.m.) CoMo Eclipse: Show Me Totality will feature events the weekend before Aug. 21 and two viewing venues on Monday. Families and others attending for the experience will find activities, music, food, and educational opportunities at Cosmo Park. Eclipse enthusiasts can set up high-tech equipment at Gans Nature Area. CoMoEclipse.com

Jefferson City (2:29 at 1:14 p.m.) Jefferson City Capital Eclipse Celebration will feature a concert Saturday night, with educational sessions and entertainment Sunday. Monday will be the viewing on the Capitol lawn. capitaleclipse.org

Missouri State Parks “We have 42 parks within the path of totality – that’s 42 locations where you can see the eclipse in full,” said Steph Deidrick, Missouri state parks communications director. Admission to Missouri state parks and historic sites is free. Campers must sign up for a minimum of three nights during the eclipse. Experience a 36-mile Total Eclipse of the Katy Bicycle Ride along Katy Trail State Park, from Rocheport to Jefferson City, much of it within the path of totality. Registration is required. mostateparks.com/2017eclipse

St. Joseph (2:38 at 1:06 p.m.) Front Page Science will conduct a public event at Rosecrans Memorial Airport. The event is free, but it will cost $20 per car to park there that weekend. There’ll also be viewing along the Missouri River at the Remington Nature Center and at East Hills Shopping Center. The annual Trails West Festival that weekend will extend into Monday. StJoMoEclipse.com

St. Louis (on the edge of totality) Attend St. Louis Eclipse 2017 Task Force’s Solar Eclipse Expo from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 17 at Queeny Park Recreational Complex. EclipseExpo.org

Washington (2:28 at 1:15 p.m.) Events take place on Saturday at the public library and on Main Street on Sunday. A free eclipse viewing event on Monday at Washington Fairgrounds begins at 10 a.m. with educational presentations, vendors, games, and more. An after-party will feature music and entertainment. facebook.com/events/306422896400637

St. Charles While the City of St. Charles has 99.9 percent totality, St. Charles County parks have full totality. Total Eclipse in the Park celebrations will be held at Klondike Park in Augusta, Broemmelsiek Park in Defiance, and Quail Ridge Park in Wentzville. Admission is free, but registration prior to the events is required. Stccparks.org

Illinois Events

Carbondale (2:38 at 1:20 p.m.) Events on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday include a city concert, arts and crafts fair, eclipse expo, and a guided Eclipse Day at Saluki Stadium with programs developed in cooperation with NASA, the Adler Planetarium of Chicago, and the Louisiana Space Consortium. carbondaleeclipse.com and eclipse.siu.edu Makanda (2:40 at 1:20 p.m) The town gets maximum totality. Nearby wineries and Stone Creek Golf Club offer viewing areas. makandaeclipse2017.com

Illinois State Parks Thirteen southern parks are in the path of totality. Camping reservations are available online. Click on the solar eclipse graphic on the homepage. dnr.illinois.gov

Sparta (2:10 at 1:18 p.m.) World Shooting and Recreational Complex offers viewing areas and 1,001 campsites with water, sewer, and electric. Book at ReserveAmerica.com beginning March 21.

Kathie Sutin is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

March/April 2017 Issue


For more information, visit:

If you want to follow the 2017 eclipse this summer, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTik® Travel Planners, and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Missouri through the Free Travel Information Card found online.




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