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Rural Maine preparing for large crowds to upend small-town life on the day of the eclipse

In this May 2004, file photo, the sun rises over the mountains east of Moosehead Lake, near Greenville, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
In this May 2004, file photo, the sun rises over the mountains east of Moosehead Lake, near Greenville, Maine.

Small Maine towns on the path of totality are preparing for large crowds on the day of the upcoming total solar eclipse.

Public safety officials in Jackman, with a population of fewer than 1,000 people, have been planning for the event for nearly three years.

School is closed April 8 in Jackman, because the building will be used as one of two staging areas for emergency personnel who are expected to arrive from Farmington and other towns to provide assistance.

"In fact, some folks will be coming the night before, staying over at the school," said Bill Jarvis, chief of the Jackman-Moose River Fire and Rescue Department. "The school is also going to be a temporary medical clinic that day, which is going to be staffed with volunteers from Saint Joseph's Hospital in Bangor — two doctors, two nurses and a [physician assistant].

The region is preparing for heavy vehicular and snowmobile traffic on the day of the eclipse both before and after the event. Jarvis said last weekend's snowstorm will make conditions on April 8 more challenging — and more snow might be on the way next week.

The region has one tow truck, and Jarvis said he worries that some people will follow GPS directions onto snow-covered trails that aren't safe for driving.

"I have heard some local people in the area say that they were going to be prepared to pull people out who were stuck," he said. "I'm hoping most people, as they get to a road or whatever, will check it out before they drive in on it, but you know how that goes."

Logging companies have been urged to avoid Route 201 to and from Jackman that day.

Jarvis is urging visitors coming to Jackman to have food, water, a full tank of gas and a shovel, just in case.

Snow and ice conditions are also a concern for town officials in Greenville, which are preparing to welcome as many as 30,000 visitors next Monday to watch the upcoming total eclipse.

Greenville town manager Michael Roy said conditions vary on Moosehead Lake.

"It's a wide open space and it looks like a field right now, because it's covered with snow," he said. "We're projected at 30,000 people, and if we have 3,000 out there on the ice in one area and then it collapses, that's a huge concern for us."

Roy said he's also worried about where visitors will park. The town doesn't have many places to park, and the eclipse may attract three-times as many visitors as Greenville typically sees on the busiest weekend of the year during the International Sea Plane Fly In.

School is also closed in Greenville on April 8, mostly for public safety purposes.

Still, Roy said the town is excited to welcome visitors.

"It's mud season up here in Greenville, and there's not much going on," he said. "It's great for the businesses to have this little boom after the quiet winter that we had — and I say quiet only because of the lack of snow."

As many as 150 planes may fly into the municipal airport on April 8, including a commuter airline that's offering passengers a flight from coastal Maine to Greenville to view the eclipse, with a lobster dinner included.

Meanwhile, in Aroostook County, hotel bookings in the path of totality are filling up fast.

Sheena McNally with the Maine Tourism Association has been tracking the remaining overnight beds in the area to help visitors. She recommends that anyone traveling to The County for the eclipse firm up plans now.

"I think their best option would be to call and plan and book ahead, because it is going to be busy," McNally said. "And I do think that if there is still some limited availability, it's going to book up pretty quickly."

She says that there is still some availability. Some visitors have booked stays before the eclipse and plan to leave on the 8th, while others will drive up the day of and spend the night after.

"So I'd say it's a little 50-50 between people staying or not, but majority are booked at least the 6th through the 8th," McNally said.

But many places are running low on rooms, she says. For example, the Caribou Inn and Convention Center has 72 rooms, but McNally says it has just seven rooms left.

She says that many hotels have told her they have gotten reservations more than a year in advance.

Kaitlyn Budion is Maine Public’s Bangor correspondent, joining the reporting team after several years working in print journalism.