How to watch

What: The first total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous U.S. since 1979

When: Monday, Aug. 21. In Madras, the eclipse will begin at 9:06 a.m., with the total eclipse occurring at 10:19 a.m.

Who: Central Oregon may be inundated with more than 141,000 visitors

More information: Visit www.greatamerican eclipse.com/oregon

For many of Central Oregon’s residents, the total solar eclipse in August is a chance to experience a once-in-a-lifetime event in their own backyards. But for Central Oregon’s public lands and the people who manage them the eclipse could mean extra trash, habitat damage and an increased risk of wildfire during an already dangerous time of year.

“If we’re going to have a big fire, we’re going to have it that week,” said Michael Ryan, emergency manager for the Crook County Sheriff’s Office.

Planners are expecting hundreds of thousands of visitors to descend on Central Oregon for a glimpse of the eclipse. And with the region’s hotels completely booked, officials are gearing up for a mass influx of campers on Central Oregon’s public lands.

The total solar eclipse, which will see a narrow swath of Oregon go dark for around two and a half hours during the morning of Aug. 21, is a celestial rarity. Astronomical charts note only four occurrences visible coast to coast between 1901 and 2099.

A stretch of northern Central Oregon, including Madras and Prineville, will see the sun completely obscured behind the moon. Because of its location and relatively clear skies, Central Oregon, and Madras in particular, has become the epicenter for the phenomenon on the West Coast.

Lysa Vattimo, plan facilitator with the city of Madras, said every hotel in or around the city has been sold out for a while. Consequently, visitors who want to see the eclipse in Central Oregon are left trying to find space with family and friends, or, more likely, looking for space to park and camp on public lands.

“This is not an event we can get a list of RSVPs for,” said Kassidy Kern, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management office in Prineville.

Consequently, many of Central Oregon’s 7,442 public and private campsites that accept reservations have been booked solid. Chris Gerdes, ranger supervisor at Cove Palisades State Park, said the park’s 270 campsites were booked almost immediately after they became available online.

In addition, there are large swaths of public land where people can camp without amenities, which is known as dispersed camping. Gerdes said park officials are expecting so many last-minute arrivals they’re adding 80 temporary spaces for campers, and still don’t expect it to be close to enough.

“We know people are probably going to go where they want to go and see what they want to see,” Gerdes said.

By any measure, Central Oregon will experience a massive invasion of people. Ryan said the three-county region should expect 141,000 visitors at the very least, factoring in hotel and campsite bookings, as well as conservative estimates about how many people will stay with friends and family. However, Ryan said he expects thousands of people to drive up from California and over from the Willamette Valley in the hopes of a clear view of the celestial event. As a result, he said Central Oregon’s population of around 220,000 could more than double during the third weekend of August.

“If I lived in Redding (California), and I really wanted to see this, I’d pack up the car and drive up,” Ryan said.

During a weekend that frequently sees wildfires because of the warm, dry weather, an influx of people could be a recipe for disaster. Patrick Lair, public affairs officer for the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland, said both areas will almost certainly see a ban on campfires for the entire weekend, and restrictions on propane and charcoal. Many other state and federal groups are following suit or waiting to see what the weather brings, according to Kern.

“We are concerned, but we are very much hoping that visitors will follow the restrictions,” she said.

Another concern is that the sheer volume of cars could make it difficult for emergency vehicles to get to visitors. Lair said he’s hoping visitors will obey restrictions and avoid blocking roads, in order to accommodate ambulances and firetrucks and compensate for the gaps in Ochoco National Forest’s road infrastructure.

“It’s not designed for tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people,” Lair said.

An increase in trash and damaged habitat are also concerns, according to Kevin Larkin, district ranger for Deschutes National Forest. While some groups are putting out large dumpsters at campsites to accommodate the increased demand for trash, Larkin said Des­chutes National Forest staff are largely committed to a lengthy cleanup process after the weekend.

Lair added that he’s encouraging dispersed campers to stay at least 200 feet away from bodies of water to avoid disturbing local wildlife.

For many of the organizations, it’s all hands on deck. Ryan said the sheriff’s office will switch to 12-hour shifts, and possibly bring in backup from Deschutes County. He added that many state and federal agencies are preventing employees from taking their holidays that week.

Additionally, agencies will be working together to get the word out about expectations for the weekend. Ryan said they will be putting together an interagency response team based out of Redmond to make sure nothing gets too out of hand in town or on public land.

“I think all of us are adjusting our schedules,” Ryan said.

—Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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