Total Solar Eclipse expected to draw thousands to Tennessee

A sign on the door of the Audrey Pack Memorial Library indicates that they have given out all of their eclipse glasses on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in Spring City, Tenn. The library gave away hundreds of free glasses to residents. On August 21, thousands are expected to flock to the small Rhea County town, which is home to about 2000 residents, to view the solar eclipse.
A sign on the door of the Audrey Pack Memorial Library indicates that they have given out all of their eclipse glasses on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in Spring City, Tenn. The library gave away hundreds of free glasses to residents. On August 21, thousands are expected to flock to the small Rhea County town, which is home to about 2000 residents, to view the solar eclipse.
photo A worker at Ace Hardware fans out eclipse glasses that the store offers for sale on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in Spring City, Tenn. On August 21, thousands are expected to flock to the small Rhea County town, which is home to about 2000 residents, to view the solar eclipse.

Ready or not, here they come.

In just eight days, as many as 1.4 million visitors could descend on the Volunteer State to see the total eclipse.

For 55.2 million Americans, Tennessee is the closest place to see the 70-mile-wide path of totality that will sweep across the U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina, according to

The event is a windfall for sold-out motels, campgrounds and other tourist-oriented businesses in the eclipse's path.

Scores of Tennessee communities, including Spring City, Sweetwater and Athens, have geared up for the onslaught and have festivities and activities planned. As does Nashville, which will spend one minute and 55 seconds in the path of totality. It will be the largest U.S. city to see the moon blot out the sun, except for the sun's fiery corona.

Area officials are excited - and a little overwhelmed - to be in the eclipse's path.

"We're in eclipse heaven or hell, however you want to word it," Sweetwater City Recorder Jessica Morgan said on July 28.

Best places in the United States to view eclipse

All of North America will experience a total eclipse of the sun, and anyone within the path of totality can see the event. The path, where the moon will completely cover the sun and the corona or halo can be seen, will stretch from Oregon to South Carolina.› Madras, Ore.› Snake River Valley, Idaho.› Casper, Wyo.› Sandhills of Western Nebraska.› St. Joseph, Mo.› Carbondale, Ill.› Hopkinsville, Ky.› Nashville› Great Smoky Mountains› Columbia, S.C.Source: New York Times News Service

That day, city employees helped line up 1,000 additional parking spaces on property owned by Knoxville developer Nick Cazana near Interstate 75 to add to the 1,000 parking spaces already set aside at the Sweetwater Flea Market, a landmark alongside the interstate.

"We've added another 1,000 parking spots today. We are overwhelmed, I'll say that," said Morgan, a Sweetwater native who had fielded calls from as far away as Chicago; Dayton, Ohio; and Orlando, Fla., from people who've picked Sweetwater as their viewing spot

So many phone calls were coming into City Hall in late July, Morgan said, that Sweetwater had to pay the city's pool lifeguards to work extra hours answering the phones.

"We are doing nothing but answering the phone about the eclipse," she said.

Closer to Chattanooga, Spring City, Tenn., a Rhea County town of some 2,000 residents on U.S. Highway 27, is dead center in the path of totality and will plunge into darkness for two minutes and 39 seconds.

"It's going to be an interesting weekend, that's for sure," said City Manager Stephania Motes, who expects as many as 9,000 visitors - more than four times Spring City's population.

"I've gotten calls [from] as far north as New York state and as far south as central Florida," she said. "We've got several days' worth of activities planned. We're just trying to make it where people have things to do."


The Spring City Howard Johnson Hotel has been booked since January, Motes said. The city's website in late July listed private lodgings for rent during the eclipse, and the city has helped organize a number of events and places to park, including the elementary and middle school and several area churches.

In Sweetwater, the 71-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites at State Highway 68 and I-75 has been booked for about a year by eclipse-watchers who planned ahead.

"Normally, a Monday in August, we do not sell out," inn manager Crystal Shor-Sliger said Tuesday. She's heard that motels up and down I-75 are sold out for Aug. 21. "We get at least 10 calls a day of people trying to book."

Campgrounds are sold out, too.

Fast facts

› This will be the first total solar eclipse since 1918 to cross the entire contiguous United States.› The next total solar eclipse in the United States will occur in 2024.

The U.S. Forest Service said campgrounds within the path of totality already are booked in the 650,000-acre Cherokee National Forest, which has 30 developed campgrounds, 45 day-use sites and numerous dispersed camping sites.

The Townsend/Great Smokies KOA Holiday campground also has been booked for some time now, said general manager Mark Chipperfield. The campground is near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, whose western half will be in the path of totality.

Sandi McKee, owner of a family farm halfway between Athens and Etowah, will turn a 20-acre cattle pasture into an ad hoc campsite she said will hold a couple of hundred campers. Tent camping for three days costs $60 and recreational vehicles cost $130.

"All of the campgrounds around here have been sold out," McKee said. "Nobody has a place to camp, so we're opening up a 20-acre pasture."

She's offering portable toilets, a bonfire Sunday night, and free solar eclipse glasses. But camping will be primitive; there's no water, except for bottled water she'll sell.

"People are calling every day," she said.

"We're not trying to get rich off it," added McKee, who said a lot of expenses are involved, including getting insurance and the portable toilets.

Big Frog Expeditions, a Benton, Tenn.-based rafting company, has scheduled a trip on the middle Ocoee River during the eclipse. Rafters will go through class III and IV rapids before reaching a calm spot to watch the eclipse.

"We are probably about 75 percent away from being sold out on it," Pebbles King, the office manager for Big Frog said Wednesday. "Our hope is to have 12 boats. That would be a little more than 80 people."

Total Solar Eclipse coverage

Ordinarily, Big Frog wouldn't hold a rafting trip on a Monday after school starts back, she said.

Another business that expects a big eclipse turnout is the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. It will run its train on Aug. 21 from Blue Ridge, Ga., to McCaysville, Ga./Copperhill, Tenn., where passengers will get out to watch the eclipse.

Ticket agent Nick Jones expects the excursion, which includes perks such as eclipse glasses, will sell out - even at $58 per adult, which is more than the usual $44 adult ticket price.

"We already sold about 300 [tickets], but the train holds 550," Jones said Tuesday.


In alphabetical order (which doesn't correspond with the order in which totality will occur) here's a sampling of events that area communities have in the works for Aug. 21.

  • Athens: "Total Eclipse at the Park" will be from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 21 at Athens Regional Park. The event, hosted by the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce and Athens Parks and Recreation, will feature live entertainment, games and vendors. Vendor spaces are free, but all vendors must be registered. Sandi McKee is offering camping space on a rural, 20-acre pasture on her family farm. Cost is $60 for tent camping for all three days and $130 for RVs. Call 423-368-3285.
  • Benton, Ocoee/Polk County: Rafting companies are offering trips down the Ocoee at the exact time of the eclipse. The Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park will have events all weekend, including bonfires, eclipse-themed workshops and stargazing.
  • Copperhill: The twin cities of Copperhill, Tenn., and McCaysville, Ga., will have a street party with vendors, food and live music from noon to 4 p.m.
  • Dayton: Beginning at 1 p.m., Bryan College will have solar viewing stations set up near the Grassy Bowl, across from Rudd Auditorium, including a solar telescope. There will be two presentations about solar eclipses inside Rudd Auditorium at 1 p.m. Dr. Lyle Smith will present "What is an Eclipse?" and Dr. Jud Davis will present "Eclipses and Scripture: What the Bible says about These Occurrences." The presentations will be offered again at 1:30 p.m.
  • Decatur: The Meigs County-Decatur Public Library will host an eclipse viewing party from 12:30-3:30 p.m. at the Piggly Wiggly parking lot to bring STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming to children, teens and adults. Free eclipse viewing glasses will be provided while supplies last.
  • Englewood: Bill McConkey, physics instructor at McMinn Central High School (between Etowah and Englewood), invites the public to an eclipse party on the campus of Central High School.
  • Etowah: "The Etowah Eclipse Extravaganza," from noon-8 p.m. at the historic train depot, will include family friendly games and activities followed by live entertainment, food trucks and a fireworks show at a "Hang Out in the Dark" event at Starr Mountain Outfitters.
  • Madisonville: A "Total Eclipse of the Park" event with food, vendors and music will be from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at Houston Park. City officials will award prizes to the winners of the recycled art project contest at 3 p.m. at the Madisonville Library, 240 Houston St. T-shirts and special eclipse glasses will be on sale at the library and at City Hall, 400 College St.
  • Niota: The "Total Eclipse Festival" will begin at 12:30 p.m., featuring a concert with the Michael Mayes Family, Vicky Gould and Ron Calypon. Michael Genest, a 37-year veteran of the U.S. space program and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, will speak. Food vendors also will be available. Free solar glasses will be available.
  • Pikeville: Fall Creek Falls State Park in Spencer, Tenn., near Pikeville will have a weekend of activities, including events related to astronomy and the eclipse.
  • Reliance: Polk County will hold a two-day "Sun & Moon Fest" beginning at 7 p.m. on Aug. 20 and again at noon on Aug. 21. Free eclipse glasses will be provided.
  • Spring City: This eclipse-viewing event will include vendors with food, crafts and children's activities at Veterans Park and at the Nature Park.
  • Tellico Plains: "Standing in the Shadow of the Moon" will be from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. on Aug. 21 at the Charles Hall Museum and Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center. It will feature a storyteller of Cherokee descent who will describe the Cherokee's connections to the sun, moon and stars.
  • Vonore: Fort Loudon State Historic Park will provide solar eclipse glasses and discuss 18th-century beliefs in solar eclipse as well as the the history of the park.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or www.face or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.

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