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Kerrville, Texas Crossroads for Two Eclipses

Volunteering to help my city prepare for the Annular and Total Solar Eclipses

Published onMar 02, 2024
Kerrville, Texas Crossroads for Two Eclipses
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Abstract

Kerrville, Texas will experience both an annular and total solar eclipse within a six-month period. I describe my experience as well as that of other volunteers who are helping our city meet the challenges posed by the event. I talk about preparation and successes as we look forward to the 2024 total solar eclipse.

1. Introduction

Kerrville, Texas is one of the most fortunate cities in the United States celestially. It will experience both an annular and total solar eclipse within a six-month period of time. Both eclipses are of significant duration and Kerrville is geographically positioned for a better than normal chance of favorable atmospheric conditions to view both events. As such, at least 50,000 visitors are anticipated for the total eclipse. The following paper covers my and other’s experiences as volunteers helping our city meet the challenges these celestial events present. All thoughts, opinions and observations are my own and do not necessarily represent the thoughts or opinions of the City of Kerrville or any city employees.  

2. Narrative

Kerrville is a small city of 25,000 located in Kerr County about 65 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas along Interstate Highway 10 (IH 10). It has the great fortune of being the largest city entirely within the path of both the 2023 Annular and 2024 Total Solar Eclipse. As such, the attention our small town is receiving nationwide (and beyond) is unprecedented.  

Although Kerrville is already fairly well known in Texas as “The Capitol of the Texas Hill Country”, it’s an area of scenic beauty that attracts weekend visitors, particularly in spring and summer. The anticipated 50,000 visitors for the total eclipse represents a very significant challenge in terms of traffic management, accommodations and related infrastructure needs. City leaders began serious preparations in the summer of 2022, involving nearly all city departments. I heard about the planning via local news. Having traveled to Hawaii in 1991 and Nebraska in 2017 to see solar eclipses, I volunteered to assist the Kerrville Parks and Recreation Department (KPRD). My hope was to share what worked, what didn’t work, and what I wished had been done as an eclipse tourist myself.  

In addition to KPRD personnel, numerous other volunteers were involved; residents who are amateur astronomers, business owners, professors at the local university, staff at Kerrville Independent School District (KISD), staff from the local Nature Center, and retired NASA engineer Jeff Stone.  Sub-committees were formed, and I joined “Events” and “Community Education”. From these two sub-committees plans emerged for a free, signature main event, as well as designated overflow city-supported observation sites. We also planned action steps to educate residents not only about the science behind the solar eclipses and eye safety, but also about what to expect and how to prepare for the issues that would accompany Kerrville’s tripling in size for a few days.  

I personally scouted Kerrville’s Public Parks to identify and rank what I felt were suitable remote observation locations. This included all the schools with significant acreage as well as softball fields and the like. The ranking was based on guesstimated capacity, vehicle accessibility, and existence of infrastructure like restrooms, etc. Eventually four of my top tier sites were selected as official, fee based and supported observing locations. The fee will help defray the costs of port-a-potties and additional water stations. Food trucks are also planned. At this time, plans are still being formulated for a possible shuttle system with designated stops using school and/or chartered buses to reduce traffic congestion.  

The Events committee used input from volunteers who had experienced a solar eclipse, to help design the signature event, dubbed “Dark in the Park”, including opening time, activities for observers and children before, during, and as importantly AFTER the solar eclipse. The latter will help prevent traffic gridlock from a simultaneous departure. Since no KPRD staff member have actually seen a total eclipse, the input from solar eclipse veterans was very helpful. Early on the need for Kerrville to reach out to professional astronomy organizations, clubs, science museums and the like for collaboration was recognized. To Kerrville’s great benefit, NASA selected the city by early 2023 as one of the sites where they would livestream both the annular and total solar eclipses. In addition, NASA conducted public speaking engagements and school visits just prior to the annular solar eclipse. 

Of course, the Events and Community Education sub-committees were only a small part of the city machinery gearing up to meet the challenges of a solar eclipse event. City, county, state, and the Hill Country Alliance (a coalition of other smaller cities in Kerr and neighboring counties in the path of totality) met to discuss and solve mutual traffic and road issues, law enforcement concerns, increased utility and cellular tower demands, as well as causality and first responder issues. The latter is particularly important because the area is dotted with many private event venues, vineyards, summer camps, and religious retreats that are planning private solar eclipse events. The roads in the country, other than the interstate, are fairly narrow and will be congested. Officials need to know the location and size of these private events in case an emergency response is needed.  

The Community Education sub-committee is using our modern-day internet connected world to keep residents and potential visitors informed. The coming solar eclipses have already caused a great deal of concern among Kerrville’s residents. Some expressed fears of squatters and trespassers setting up tents or RVs on private property and street easements. Other residents suggested blocking the public streets in certain neighborhoods with barricades until they were told by the city that this was not legal. Still others fear that local stores will be wiped out of essentials for weeks and crime will uptick significantly. These fears are generated in part from news accounts of gridlock lasting hours and frayed tempers in cities in the path of the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. To answer such concerns, Kerrville started a Facebook page along with a website (Kerrvilleeclipse.com) dedicated to the latest news, events and town halls about the eclipse.   Hotels, RV parks, and others offering accommodations are encouraged to link their sites to Kerrville’s as are those hosting their own private eclipse events. The goal is to make the Facebook page and Kerrvilleeclipse.com a “one stop” for residents and visitors alike to find out what’s what. 

One year prior to the total solar eclipse, Kerrville held a well-publicized “Eclipse Kickoff” at the local library. An inflatable planetarium was brought to educate citizens. KPRD and the volunteers, including myself, staffed the event. We answered questions and built excitement for the solar eclipse. A volunteer, Jeff Stone, brought his telescope, which was fitted with a solar filter. Many citizens got their first look at the Sun using a telescope. During the following months, eclipse knowledgeable volunteers like Jeff and KPRD staff, also gave talks to interested local groups like the Lion’s Club, which operates its National Camp for Disabled Children in Kerr County, and similar civic organizations. By sheer coincidence the Lion’s Camp is celebrating its Diamond Anniversary the weekend of the solar eclipse and will host a public solar eclipse event of their own at the camp. Business expos held locally during this time frame had booths staffed with KPRD associates and volunteers providing information on the solar eclipses to area merchants. Other volunteers and KPRD staff have conducted interviews on local talk radio, as well as talk radio in nearby markets, to spread the word. In addition, the City of Kerrville included notices about the eclipses to residents with their utility bills, both electronically and by mail and will continue to do so until the total solar eclipse.  

The day of the annular coincided with two long running festivals Kerrville hosts; RiverFest and Chalk Festival. NASA’s livestream was incorporated into Riverfest activities and an existing open-air stage at Louise Hays Park, the site of RiverFest, was given to NASA for its use. The festival had a children’s play zone, food trucks, vendors, and a KPRD booth selling solar eclipse merchandise like glasses, t-shirts, and a Tyler Nordgren designed commemorative Kerrville solar eclipse poster. Attendance was higher than normal and comparable to Kerrville Independence Day events. Since the “Ring of Fire” occurred during the late morning, those interested in viewing the eclipse arrived as soon as the gates opened at 10am. NASA’s booth, located next to their broadcasting stage, was staffed with astrophysicists answering questions and interacting with the public. NASA also projected a large image of the “Ring of Fire” from a telescope and handed out souvenirs. I assisted here, on Kerrville’s behalf. 

two people on a stage with a banner behind them
Figure 1

NASA stage during the event

group of people at a table looking at things
Figure 2

NASA booth staffed by astrophysicists talking to Citizen attendees

Lines were long for the duration of the NASA booth’s operation. Unfortunately, the RiverFest stage, separate from NASA’s stage, could not be used for announcements to the gathered crowd during the livestream for fear of causing feedback issues. Work is being done to resolve this situation for the total solar eclipse. To keep the upcoming total solar eclipse in the minds of citizens after the annular eclipse, the Parks and Recreation Department solicited help from volunteers for an eclipse themed float (Figure 3 and Figure 4) for Kerrville’s Illuminated Christmas Parade. Jeff Stone, a resident and retired NASA engineer, designed a very clever mechanism using repurposed revolving streetlamps mounted on a tire rim placed on the roof of a Jeep to replicate a total solar eclipse. The results were excellent and seen by thousands of locals along the parade route.  

Jeep decorated as a float for the eclipse, during the day
Figure 3

Eclipse float during day

Jeep decorated and seen at night
Figure 4

Eclipse float illuminated at night

3. Conclusions

Although attendance at Riverfest and Chalk Fest was higher than normal, it did not tax roads or overwhelm business. Restaurants reported normal traffic. This of course will be very different for the total solar eclipse and Kerrville took pains to educate the public on the differences between the two solar eclipses visually and in terms of attendance. Nevertheless, there were expressions of surprise and disappointment that the skies did not darken, the stars did appear and the roads were not bumper to bumper, some thought that the city had “Cried Wolf”. This is a serious issue. Kerrville plans to work to avoid complacency for the total solar eclipse through the same channels previously used; social media, print media, and radio. Information will be updated to reflect the total solar eclipse. Residents will be advised to avoid unnecessary travel the day of the total solar eclipse and to have on hand groceries, fuel, prescriptions, etc. Possible road closures will be announced a week ahead of the solar eclipse along with what residents need to do in case of an emergency.  KISD will be closed and their motto is “No Child Left Inside” during the Eclipse. Teachers will again visit the science of the solar eclipse and make sure all students have glasses and understand how to use them, and that they take that information home to their parents. NASA is expected to revisit schools with lectures. An inflatable planetarium has been booked to show simulations of the total solar eclipse prior to the actual event near the location of “Dark in the Park”.  

In summary, the unique challenges of being in the path of both an annular and total solar eclipse within a six-month time frame require in-depth planning between all levels of government and extensive public education and involvement to ensure an enjoyable, safe experience for all – resident and visitor alike. Messages need to be repeated using every form of communication possible to reach as many as possible. It cannot be assumed everyone uses the Internet, reads the paper, or listens to the radio. 

 About the author

Ludivina Garcia (personal). I am a former medical sales representative and science enthusiast who retired to Kerrville in 2021.  

 

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