Home News and Features Waterbury Braces for April 2024’s Total Solar Eclipse

Waterbury Braces for April 2024’s Total Solar Eclipse

Screenshot from Facebook of a crowd watching a total solar eclipse in Sweetwater, TN on August 21, 2017.
Will throngs of people – between 50,000 and 200,000 – head to Waterbury to see the total eclipse of the sun on April 8, 2024? Maybe. And this has Karen Nevin, Revitalizing Waterbury’s executive director, sounding the alarm.

After handing out eclipse glasses, Nevin urged the board of selectmen on June 5 to be prepared for a potentially enormous crowd next spring if Waterbury gets anything like what some main street towns in other states experienced during the last total solar eclipse in 2017. “If 50,000… if even 10,000 people come to Waterbury, it is going to have a major impact. People are going to get out of their cars and sit in the middle of the road because guess what? The middle of the road is where there’s no trees,” Nevin said.

Nevin reasoned that Waterbury is the closest Vermont town with the best view of the eclipse by interstate to people from New York City, Boston and Connecticut, and would therefore be a likely place for people to go. Thus, there are many safety issues to consider, especially the safety of schoolchildren and traffic routes for emergency vehicles. Waterbury sits right on the narrow “path of totality” where (barring cloud cover) the eclipse would be fully visible for two minutes and 30 seconds beginning around 3:30 p.m. This is right around when students are getting off their school buses, she said. “Do you want children getting off buses when there is a full total eclipse of the sun and they could ruin their eyes forever if they go outside and look at the sun? … I think schools should be closed that day.” 

Mark Breen, meteorologist with the Fairbanks Museum and founder of the “Eye on the Sky” weather report, spoke on Vermont Edition on April 12 this year about how the total solar eclipse will cross North America. A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon goes between the Sun and Earth, and completely blocks the face of the Sun. At the point of “totality,” the sky darkens. Breen said the last total solar eclipse to happen in Vermont was in 1932.

Nevin told the Waterbury board of selectmen during their meeting she had heard a presentation from a group representing Sweetwater, Tennessee, where an eclipse occurred in August 2017. People stopped their cars on the interstate, and clogged the roadways. Then, after the eclipse, people had trouble getting out of town for hours due to traffic snarls.

Sweetwater – a town of similar size to Waterbury – heavily marketed their town as a great place to see the eclipse, and sold lots of stuff – including parking spaces – to the estimated 50,000 people who showed up. This wound up netting the city around $93,000 in merchandising cash according to whjl.com, a local Tennessee media company.

This was the last solar eclipse to be seen in the United States following one in 1979, according to eclipse.aas.org. Author Annie Dillard recounts her experience of chasing the 1979 solar eclipse viewable along the Yakima Valley in her essay, “Total Eclipse.” In this narrative she explains the attraction by comparing it to a profound human experience, writing, “Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.” In her essay, she and her then-husband Gary Clevidence drive through the Yakima Valley, park by the side of the road, and wander up a random hill through crowds of people to find a good vantage point to sit and watch the eclipse. Could there be a similar scene in Waterbury?

Perhaps, but Waterbury isn’t the only Vermont city set to be in the path of totality. Burlington and Winooski will have the total view for slightly longer at three minutes and 15 seconds, and Montpelier and Barre will have it for a shorter time at about 90 seconds. The narrow swath runs through Vermont from  Barre and Middlebury to the south up through Waterbury, Burlington, St. Albans and Swanton up to Canada. The path also includes Lamoille County and the entire Northeast Kingdom, according to greatamericaneclipse.com. So St. Johnsbury and Lyndonville would also be good places to see the event.

And since the event is set to happen during maple sugaring season, some Vermont companies are already cashing in. Sugar Tours of West Dover announced on its website a tour to include a rendezvous with Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in East Montpelier. On the day of the eclipse, Monday, April 8, 2024, guests will be driven from their hotel in Shelburne to Morse Farm for sugar on snow. Then, they will head to Montpelier to “enjoy lunch and shopping on your own,” and from there, the tour will go to St. Albans Bay Park to view the eclipse by the shores of Lake Champlain. The sugar tour during the eclipse is sold out according to their website. But Morse Farm has yet to be inundated. Jacob at Morse Farm said they have had at least one group inquire about stopping by during the eclipse, but they are not yet planning for April 2024.

And a website called vermontvacation.com with a State of Vermont logo urges visitors to come to towns in the path of totality. “Much of northern Vermont will be within the eclipse’s 70- to 80-mile-wide path of totality, including downtowns Burlington, Montpelier, St. Johnsbury, Hardwick, Newport, St. Albans, Stowe, Waterbury, and Winooski,” the website states. Burlington has started to market itself as a good place to visit to see the eclipse, but other places have not yet gotten on the bandwagon.

A quick call or internet research to some other places yielded interesting results. The West Hill B&B in Warren, Vermont (also in the path of totality), has been sold out after marketing themselves as “the best Vermont bed and breakfast for the solar eclipse 2024” according to their website. The Trapp Family Lodge has the event on their calendar, stating “rooms will sell out for this once in a lifetime experience.” And also aware of the solar event is the Topnotch at Stowe. However, they were not sold out on April 8, but reservations are “ticking up.”They mentioned the eclipse several times when asked about availability. But eclipse awareness was lacking at the Best Western in Waterbury, where the staffer who answered the phone said there was plenty of availability on April 8. The Plaza Hotel in Montpelier said they were not booking out as far as April, yet.

However, throughout the rest of the United States, some communities in the path of totality are gearing up for a big weekend. With a path of totality detailed by NASA, the eclipse comes up from Mexico through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri before traveling through Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It is then on to New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Some of these places are going all out, with a ranch in Texas already selling tickets to the “event.”   Paducah Kentucky, the “city of crafts and folk art”, invites people to visit the city to see as “This exciting celestial phenomenon happens as the moon completely blocks the sun, daytime becomes a deep twilight and the sun’s corona shimmers in the darkened sky.”  Likewise, people are getting excited in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland is hosting a total eclipse festival from April 6 to 8 – “a three-day celestial celebration”, billing it as an outdoor family-friendly event with music and food vendors. People in Niagara Falls, N.Y. are making a big deal of it as well. And Rochester, N.Y. is going so far as to name it after itself, promoting the “Rochester Total Solar Eclipse 2024.”

But back in Waterbury, Nevin spoke of the benefits as well as the concerns. Benefits include lots of money being spent at stores, lodging, and restaurants. Concerns include lack of public restrooms (including an adequate supply of toilet paper – they ran out of it during the last eclipse in Sweetwater TN.), trash, traffic, and street lamps that run on light sensors. And above all, “glasses, glasses, glasses” Nevin said, to protect people’s eyes.