Depoe Bay Is Ground Zero For Total Solar Eclipse

Jul 21, 2017

Kay Wyatt sits in her observatory on the Oregon Coast where she's getting ready for the August eclipse.
Credit Steve Wyatt

One month from today, more than a million visitors are expected to be in Oregon for the total solar eclipse. Planning has been going on for years and is kicking into high gear. On the coast there are special concerns – and opportunities – for residents and tourists.

As part of KLCC’s 50th Anniversary Road Trip, we continue our series from the Newport area. KLCC’s Angela Kellner reports from ground zero for the solar eclipse – Depoe Bay.

Reporter: “I’m on the main strip in downtown Depoe Bay. It’s pretty quiet here on a weekday morning, nothing like what it’s going to be in the 3rd week of August when a storm of people come here to see the solar eclipse.”

Credit Angela Kellner/KLCC

In the Chalet Restaurant in Newport, Kay Wyatt fondly recalls her first solar eclipse. She was ten years old. Her dad brought home five large cardboard boxes for his kids.
Kay Wyatt: “And we made pinhole cameras, projectors that we could climb inside of. And I remember it was so amazing to be able to see the moon eclipse the sun, even while I was inside that box. And as a child that just started me on the way to marveling at being able to see eclipses, and so I’ve seen several since then.”

That was more than 50 years ago. Wyatt, a retired seismologist and amateur astronomer, has such a fascination with the 2017 solar eclipse, it’s why she and her husband moved to the Oregon coast. Depoe Bay to be exact.

Wyatt: “Just a couple miles north of Depoe Bay is the centerline of totality. And what that really means is that the people that will be along that line will see the longest totality. So most people want to get as close as they can to the centerline.”

And that is expected to bring tens of thousands of people to Depoe Bay alone. On August 21st, Wyatt and her husband Steve will be away from the crowds at their personal observatory in the coastal mountains.

Wyatt: “I’ll have 5 telescopes set up. I have laptops that will be attached to each of those, cameras to each of them and I’ll be doing photography. But it’ll all be automated because I want my eyes to look at the total eclipse. I don’t want to be looking down at a camera. I want to experience this. Yes!”

Wyatt has been lending her expertise to the community by doing radio shows on BOSS FM and giving educational talks.

While people like Wyatt have been preparing for a long time, others will make a last minute decision about where to view the eclipse. Communities along the path of totality have to figure out how to handle all those people. Logistics such as traffic, porta potties, trash. And Lincoln County has 75,000 pair of eclipse glasses to distribute.

Credit Angela Kellner/KLCC

Eclipse planning was an agenda item at a recent meeting with Depoe Bay city officials and Lincoln County Commissioners.

Depoe Bay Fire Chief Josh Williams quipped that they’ve known this celestial event is coming.
Williams: “We have the luxury of a date. I’m treating this as a predictable disaster. That’s exactly what it is.”

He jokes that he’s cancelled all vacation and sick time for staff and volunteers. He’ll need all hands on deck.

Williams: “I’ve ordered 600-feet of fencing for the fire stations so there’s going to have a spot for our people to be. I really intend on making our fire stations in the district their own individual compounds with food and provisions for the people that are there.”

Depoe Bay won’t be able to call in back up from nearby districts, because they’ll be dealing with their own eclipse crowds. Living on the coast means the threat of an earthquake, tsunami or other major disaster. So for safety officials like Fire Chief Williams, planning for tens of thousands of visitors is a good practice run. But he has a warning:

Williams: “Any given August day for us is a busy day. If this was to happen last year, that would have been the day the fire started in Depoe Bay. So it’s fire season, even at the beach.”

Depoe Bay Mayor Barbara Leff says ready or not, here they come. She explains her city’s role in being ground zero for the start of the eclipse.

Mayor Leff: “To try to help people have the best possible experience they can in the safest atmosphere we are able to create for them. And our hope is that we can give everyone the shelter, the adventure, the food that they want to get from this experience.”

But she says it’s a challenge because there’s never been an event of this magnitude in Depoe Bay.
 

Leff:”Whether we’re going to have sufficient resources, we don’t know because we don’t know if we’re expecting 20,000 people, 200,000 people or a million people.”

The mayor is encouraging restaurants to prepare for crowds like never before. She wants them to simplify their menus and offer more grab and go items. But there’s another group who needs to prepare – residents. Brochures with advice have been sent to homes – telling people to stock up on essentials, letting them know it won’t be easy to run to the grocery store or hit the ATM.

One of the biggest questions they get on the coast is what if it’s cloudy on the morning of the eclipse? Kay Wyatt has this answer.

Wyatt: “Even if it’s cloudy, with eclipse glasses if the cloud cover isn’t too heavy, they’ll actually be able to see the sun being eclipsed by the moon. They may not see the corona, but they’ll be able to see a little bit, unless it’s very very heavy clouds and we’re not gonna let that happen. No, no, no. We’re not gonna let that happen!”

While Depoe Bay is the first place to experience the eclipse, communities along the path of totality are all bracing for the thousands of people headed their way.
And officials hope that what’s being prepared for as a type of natural disaster, doesn’t turn out to be one.