How one town in the path of totality is prepping for an eclipse influx

Stowe, a town of just over 5000 residents, is normally quiet in April. But this weekend marks an eclipse tourist invasion, writes Amber Jamieson

Monday 08 April 2024 12:11 BST
(Getty Images)

On Monday afternoon, the Vermont town of Stowe will plunge into semi-darkness for two minutes and 48 seconds during the solar eclipse.

But it’s taken a lot longer to get ready for those few minutes in the path of totality.

“Getting prepared for the eclipse has been over a year in the making,” Jennifer Greene, the marketing manager for Stowe Area Association, told The Independent.

All of North America will see at least a partial eclipse on Monday, during the Great American Eclipse of 2024, when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. But a strip of the country, from a corner of Texas all the way up to Maine, will experience the natural phenomena of a full eclipse — and an influx of tourists there to witness it.

The path of totality runs through multiple major cities that are accustomed to hosting big events — Austin, Dallas, Indianapolis, Cleveland — but it also cuts through states that haven’t seen anything like this for decades. Up to 4 million people are estimated to travel to the path of totality, with searches on Airbnb for the eclipse period up over 1,000 percent.

Stowe, a town of just over 5000 residents, is normally quiet in April. Chilly, but at the end of the skiing season, hotel occupancy is usually around 30 percent. Fall is its busiest season, when tourists flock to the charming New England mountain town for its stunning fall foliage. During its most crowded October weekends, hotel occupancy sits at around 85 percent.

(Getty Images)

The eclipse is a little different. This Sunday night, before Monday’s eclipse, hotel occupancy in Stowe is at 99 per cent. Short term rentals are at 90 percent occupancy for Monday, with Stowe one of the most-booked eclipse destinations on Airbnb.

“It’s a very odd event to prepare for because you don’t know what you don’t know,” said Greene. “There are some people who are like: Is this really as big of a deal as we think? And then there’s some people who are like: This is just going to be so overwhelming, it’s going to be too much. And I’m kind of hoping we’re somewhere comfortably in the middle.”

Greene first became aware that Stowe was in the path of totality when her mother flagged it to her over a year ago because she thought the eclipse might be a good chance for a family BBQ.

Quickly it became clear it was going to be a lot bigger than that, and the town needed to get ready.

A year ago they decided not to close down any roads during the eclipse — traffic can already be an issue during busy times, and there’s only so many roads in and out of town. So because no roads are closed there’s no town-wide events — in contrast to nearby Burlington, which has city-wide events happening.

Instead, Greene encouraged local businesses to get events planned — and make sure they had adequate staffing. April is usually when destination workers take vacation, so instead they advised businesses to make sure employees to avoid being off that week. Often Monday is a day when businesses, particularly restaurants in the off season, are shut so they recommended people shift schedules and keep their doors open.

But no amount of preparing can change the weather — snow fell this week in Vermont, and more is coming, although the current predictions are that Monday will be at least partly sunny. “A lot of us up here are used to just riding the weather as it goes,” said Greene.

This is the first time Stowe has been directly in the line of an eclipse for a decade — and North America won’t see its next total solar eclipse until 2044. The length of Monday’s is nearly double the time of the most recent solar eclipse in 2017, when then-president Donald Trump infamously stared at the sun from the White House balcony without protective glasses.

Solar eclipse in 2017 (PA Archive)

Dozens of events are planned — the ticketed party at the Cliff House at Stowe Mountain Resort has sold out, although you can purchase a gondola ride on Monday to view it from Vermont’s highest peak. The Alchemist Brewery has a Solar Eclipse Party planned, with fire dancers, a DJ and a big outdoor space that will be good for viewing. A bunch of other local businesses that share a parking lot — Stowe Cider, Shakedown Street BBQ & Grill, American Flatbread, and Zero Gravity — are hosting a free all day Blackout Party, with musicians.

You won’t see Greene at any of them though, she’s kept her mom’s promise to be at the family party. A local bakery is organising some catering trays for it, and offered to drop the food off since they’ll already be delivering a cake to a nearby wedding taking place during the eclipse.

“Everyone is doing their own thing to celebrate this cool moment,” she said.

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