Everything from trespassing concerns, fire safety, snakes, garbage and traffic congestion was discussed at the latest solar eclipse meeting, hosted by the Grant County Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re in all-hands-on-deck mode,” said chamber office manager Tammy Bremner.
The solar eclipse will occur on the morning of Aug. 21 with Grant County in the line of totality. She welcomed an audience of 36 on June 14 at the Canyon City Community Hall. Bremner said they are still planning for an unknown number of visitors, but it could range from 10,000 to 100,000.
John Day Police Chief Richard Gray said all the camping spots at the Industrial Park have been reserved — 125 RV and 58 tent sites. Also, almost 1,000 people are expected at the Grant County Fairgrounds, and 35 at the newly acquired Oregon Pine property near the old Hudspeth mill.
He noted the sites are likely to have multiple people staying in each spot. If there were three visitors at each camping spot, that would total 3,654 people — not to mention those staying at other camping sites and hotels. Gray said 50,000 campers are also expected in Mitchell.
One audience member expressed concern about trespassers. Grant County 911 dispatch manager Valerie Luttrell suggested taking photos of any trespassing vehicles and get the license plate number, instead of inundating 911 with calls.
“Don’t call if it’s not a dire emergency,” Luttrell said. “That’s going to help us out.”
Bremner reminded people to be proactive by posting no trespassing signs. Gray added that those trying to avoid unwanted visitors should be careful not to block access for emergency medical services.
Rebekah Rand, Blue Mountain Hospital’s ambulance director, reminded the group that much of the ambulance services are run by volunteers who have jobs and other commitments, but they are staffing extra ambulances.
A man in the audience asked about snakes and extra antivenom.
“It’s an expensive medication,” she said. “The hospital has additional on hand. Yes, we are stocking up on that.”
JDPD Officer Andrew Martin said he used to work for the local pharmacy, and suggested people have an extra month of medication, if possible.
Bremner noted locals should have their pets’ vaccinations up to date, as well as themselves, particularly measles and mumps.
John Day Fire Chief Ron Smith offered some common-sense fire safety tips: Clear grass that surrounds burn barrels, trim natural vegetation to under 3 inches, clean debris around homes and stairwells, clean rain gutters, stack firewood away from the house and don’t burn past regulation hours.
“We’ve had a wet spring, and the grasses will be 3 to 4 feet tall,” he said. “They will turn yellow, and they will burn.”
For those who have welcomed visitors in their fields, dry grass should be mowed down to an inch high.
“If someone is in a vehicle with their motor running and AC on, it could start a fire,” he said. “Dry grass an inch high is not a problem — three inches is a different scenario.”
Bremner said, when visitors call, she suggests they plan to arrive early and stay late to free up the highways, which are expected to be congested. She said it will take a lot longer than five hours to travel from Portland to John Day.
Gray said the police department is looking for reserves to assist with the influx of visitors. A Monument resident asked what they can expect for help from law enforcement — the town is over 60 miles away from the sheriff’s office. Gray said Undersheriff Zach Mobley is working on that.
Before the arrival of the eclipse, the Rainbow Gathering is expected to draw 10,000-30,000 people to the Malheur National Forest in Grant County from late June through early July. Gray said many from the group are expected to stick around for the eclipse.
“We’re expecting that,” he said.
He mentioned another event in Paulina could draw up to 7,000 people.
The Lazy Rockin’ Stirrup Ranch (LRS) Music Fest headliners include Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy and Diamond Rio, along with several country music artists.
“A little bit of patience with us will go a long way,” Gray said.
Some are concerned with the amount of garbage that may be left in the wake of the hordes of people traveling through and staying in Grant County towns.
Kathy Mosteit of Granite, who owns The Outback restaurant and store, said she’s worried about the amount of litter that they may have to deal with.
The town has 26 residents in city limits, and 12 on the outskirts with tourists who return to camp each year.
“We are on a scenic byway, and we’re going to have campers everywhere,” she said. “We have no garbage service, and we are starting to get concerned. We’re in the forest, and everything is pack it in, pack it out — I think our forests are going to be a mess.”
Bremner stayed behind to chat with Mosteit about ideas. Bremner said the chamber is still looking for volunteers to help with the SOLV cleanup and other tasks. For more information, call the chamber at 541-575-0547.