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County Prepares For Influx Of Visitors During April’s Solar Eclipse

Lucille Ball is pictured Wednesday at Celoron Park sporting a pair of viewing glasses for the upcoming solar eclipse. Chautauqua County officials are making preparations for the April 8 total eclipse. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

Preparations are taking off for a solar eclipse expected to draw plenty of sky-gazing people to Chautauqua County in less than two months.

A two-day event is being planned at Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport to celebrate the eclipse in which the moon will cast its shadow across a stretch of the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and plunge millions of people into midday darkness.

Locally, the April 8 spectacle will begin around 3:15 p.m.

Shannon Fischer, manager of county airports, told members of the Jamestown City Council this week that a pancake breakfast will be held the mornings of April 7 and April 8 at the Jamestown airport. She also alluded to dozens of vendors who will be present.

Because Chautauqua County is in the eclipse’s path of totality, the area is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors.

“Regardless of weather, people are planning to come,” said Fischer, who told the Jamestown City Council that both of the county’s airports are expected to receive up to 100 aircraft each leading up to April 8. “We just had a video meeting on Friday for the airports. We plan to be busy.”

The Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau said the Chautauqua-Lake Erie region lies along the “optimal viewing path” for the April 8 solar eclipse.

“We are one of the top spots in the world for those who wish to witness the full effects of the eclipse,” the Visitors Bureau said on its website.

According to the Visitors Bureau, the partial phase of the eclipse will begin at 2:04 p.m. before the full eclipse at 3:18 p.m. The partial phase will end at 4:31 p.m.

Other eclipse-related events have been announced:

— the Audubon Community Nature Center, 1600 Riverside Road, Jamestown, will host an eclipse watch event from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 8. The cost to park is $20 per vehicle; admission to the nature center is free.

The event will include horse-drawn wagon rides, live music and food trucks in addition to the 6 miles of hiking trails, live birds of prey and other animals to visit, as well as a Nature Center full of exhibits to explore.

— Barcelona Lighthouse State Park will hand out viewing glasses to the first 100 guests.

— the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum will welcome guests after 2 p.m. on April 8. The cost is $50 for a vehicle up to four people and $10 for everyone else. The cost is $100 to view the eclipse from the top of the lighthouse observation deck.

— the city of Dunkirk will host Eclipse Fest from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on April 8 at the Clarion Hotel Conference Center, 30 Lake Shore Drive East, Dunkirk.

The indoor/outdoor community event will feature food, guest viewing glasses, entertainment, an ice sculpture demonstration and outdoor kids games.

— the Fenton History Center, 67 Washington St., will host an eclipse watch party from 1 to 5 p.m. on April 8. It will include music, a food truck and bake sale.

Parking is free.

The cost to attend the party and tour the museum is $10. The cost to attend the watch party only is $3.

— the Heron Campground and PFM Event Center, 2361 Waits Corners Road, Sherman, will host a two-day event, including a dance party April 7 and an eclipse watch event April 8. Costs range from $45 to attend the dance party, $58 to attend the eclipse event and $97 to attend both days.

— Midway State Park, 4859 Route 430, Bemus Point, will offer viewing glasses to the first 500 guests. Entry to the park will be free. An event will include activities for children and families and use of the carousel, mini-golf and train. All other rides and amusements will not be available.

A complete list of scheduled events can be found on the Visitors Bureau’s website at tourchautauqua.com/explore/2024-eclipse

AN EXPECTED SURGE

According to the Associated Press, the last coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the U.S. occurred on Aug. 21, 2017. During this April’s eclipse, totality will stretch to around four and a half minutes — almost twice as long as in 2017.

In all, the April 8 eclipse will hit parts of 13 U.S. states: Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

In a news release Wednesday from the county, Noel Guttman, county director of emergency services, alluded to the “critical need” for proactive planning. He previously recommended that students have off April 8 because the eclipse will occur when many schools will be busing students home.

“Though the eclipse itself is not a threat, inadequate preparation can present substantial challenges,” Guttman said. “Drawing from past experiences, we are steadfast in our commitment to ensuring Chautauqua County is thoroughly equipped to manage the surge of visitors, ensuring a secure and enjoyable environment for everyone. I’d prefer to be abundantly prepared and pleasantly surprised by this event, rather than underprepared and facing challenges on April 9th.”

The county offered the following tips:

— community preparedness: Encouraging residents to prepare by ensuring essential items such as food, water, gas, and prescription medications are readily available. This proactive approach aims to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone during the 2024 solar eclipse.

— accommodation and services: Working closely with local accommodations, restaurants and businesses to ensure they are prepared for increased demand and can provide optimal services.

— traffic management: Coordinating with law enforcement and transportation authorities to implement traffic control measures and alternative routes to avoid congestion.

— emergency response: Enhancing emergency response capabilities to manage potential incidents and ensuring swift and effective assistance for residents and visitors.

“Our commitment to safety and preparedness is unwavering,” County Executive PJ Wendel said. “We want everyone, from our local residents to our cherished visitors, to have a positive and memorable experience during the 2024 solar eclipse. While the county is thrilled about anticipated positive impacts of tourism during the eclipse, we want to ensure a seamless experience for both residents and guests alike.

“By proactively preparing, we can all contribute to making the 2024 solar eclipse a memorable and enjoyable event for everyone in Chautauqua County.”

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