Getting ready for the solar eclipse

This story was written by Haley Smith, originally published in The Sylva Herald.

The total phase of the March 9, 2016, solar eclipse as seen from aboard the cruise ship Le Soleál in the Molucca Sea off the coast of Indonesia. Photo by: Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel

Julia Wiggins has been waiting 10 years to see a total solar eclipse.

On Aug. 21, she’ll finally get her wish.

Although she grew up on a family farm in eastern North Carolina, she has family in Sylva.

Her mother, LaRae Truckner Wiggins, spent part of her childhood here. Her great-grandparents, Everette and Attie Brown, founded the Ruralite, the forerunner of The Sylva Herald.

“My mom used to take us out into a field and taught us all of the constellations,” Wiggins said. “It will be exciting to see it in my Mom’s hometown, since she’s the one who taught me about astronomy.”

The 29-year-old Charlotte resident started a 48-item bucket list during her freshman year of college and seeing an eclipse is on the list.

So far, she’s checked off about seven items. She plans to check off many more this summer during a cross-country road trip, where she’ll see the Milky Way in Alaska and end with the eclipse in Sylva.

“It is sort of a fleeting thing since it only lasts for so long,” Wiggins said. “It’s going to be a magical moment.”

Record-breaking event?

At 2:35 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21, Jackson County residents and visitors will witness The Great American Solar Eclipse.

“It has the potential to be the largest tourist event in Jackson County’s history, due to the sheer number of people who are expected to come from all around the United States,” Jackson County Tourism Development Authority Director Nick Breedlove said. “Eclipse chasers sometimes drive between 8 and 10 hours to see a solar eclipse.”

This will be the first total solar eclipse in the area since July 20, 1506. There won’t be another one until Oct. 17, 2153.

The total eclipse is expected to at least double the county’s population on Aug. 21 as visitors flock to the mountains to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event. People from the United Kingdom, France, New York and Philadelphia already have booked rooms in the community.

Weather could prove the determining factor in the total tourist tally.

“One scenario is, if everyone around us has bad weather and we have great weather, they’re all going to converge here,” Breedlove said. “Another scenario is, if everyone around us has great weather and we have bad weather, then people may leave Jackson County to find the eclipse elsewhere.”

Over the past 15 years, Jackson County has had scattered clouds 46 percent of the time on Aug. 21, according to Breedlove.


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration awarded an eclipse-related grant to Southwestern Community College, and SCC has partnered with Great Smoky Mountains National Park and others to make the eclipse an event to remember.

Park officials announced a ticketed view of the Great American Total Eclipse from the highest peak in the Smokies, at Clingmans Dome. The tickets, 1,325 of them, sold out minutes after becoming available March 1.

The Park plans to offer informal staff-guided eclipse viewing sites at Cable Mill (Cades Cove) and Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee. There will be no charge to participate. Vehicle access to these sites, though, may be closed when parking becomes full or roads become congested, Park officials said.

“We are excited that the western half of the park provides viewing opportunities for such a remarkable, natural event,” Park spokesperson Dana Soehn said. “The Clingmans Dome location was extremely limiting due to parking and space, but the good news is that there will be many places to experience the total solar eclipse across public lands in our region and in our neighboring communities.”

Students from a public relations campaign class at Western Carolina University are helping the Jackson County TDA market the event.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” WCU student Mandy McDuffie said. “I think the impact of the solar eclipse will be a significant boost to the economy of Jackson County. It could bring in potential donors to the area, and even increase the number of students interested in coming to WCU.”

Tips have been compiled for downtown businesses and restaurant, as well as a list of things for tourists to do once they get here.

“The Western students have been invaluable,” Breedlove said. “We’re encouraging people to come for the weekend, go on hikes, go on waterfall trails, et cetera. Don’t just come for the eclipse, but experience the mountains.”

He said eclipse weekend is about more than just Jackson County.

“I view it as bringing people to the entire region and turning them into repeat visitors,” Breedlove said. “Tourists don’t care where county lines are.”

The TDA has advertised the event online through and the VisitNC newsletter. The occupancy-tax funded group has distributed 10,000 rack cards with eclipse information to local businesses and hotels.

What’s happening now?

Anyone hoping for a hotel room during eclipse weekend should make reservations soon. With the eclipse still more than five months away, one-fourth of Jackson County’s 1,000 hotel rooms are already booked.

On April 21, the sun takes the same path that it traverses on Aug 21. Local residents are advised to find the position of the sun in the sky at 2:35 p.m. to determine if there will be a good view for the eclipse on Aug. 21.

Viewing a solar eclipse requires special glasses to prevent permanent eye damage.

Sunglasses or 3D glasses aren’t sufficient for viewing the eclipse because they don’t filter enough light when looking directly at the sun. Once totality hits, eclipse viewers can remove their glasses until the moon begins to uncover the sun.

Individuals planning to buy their own solar eclipse glasses should buy them early.

“Trying to get solar eclipse glasses before the eclipse is like trying to get bags of sand during a flood. You’re not going to be able to find them,” Breedlove said.

Cashiers will have 1,500 solar eclipse glasses available through Zoller Hardware. Jackson County Library plans to have glasses available.

Eclipse weekend preview

The two designated public viewing sites will be at The Village Green in Cashiers and at Bridge Park in Sylva.

Path of the total eclipse as it crosses the United States. Photo courtesy of

Subject matter experts, provided by SCC, will be available at both locations to discuss the science behind the eclipse.

The Cashiers’ eclipse festival will feature food trucks, breweries, live music, a solar scope, telescope and more. Festival goers can buy T-shirts to commemorate the experience.

The Sylva eclipse festival will have events throughout the weekend of Aug. 18-21. Some of the plan include Concerts on the Creek, food trucks, a two-mile “Moonlight Madness” run and “moonlight-madness shopping,” with business owners offering sales and extended hours.

Eclipse-themed foods and beverages such as moonshine, MoonPies and other culinary creations will be available at local restaurants. Mad Batter Food and Film will be playing free-of-charge space and solar eclipse-themed movies throughout the weekend.

Arts and crafts festivals will take place in Dillsboro on Saturday, and at Sapphire Valley on Saturday and Sunday.

Eclipse events, accommodation information, viewing tips and parking maps will be listed on

Some events have already sold out – with the eclipse still five plus months away.

Eclipse weekend coincides with the first day of school for Jackson County students on that Monday, WCU move-in weekend and the 20th annual Cashiers Designer Showhouse.

Traffic and public safety are the main concerns during eclipse weekend.

“We’re looking at putting first responders, EMS and firefighters throughout different parts of the county so that they won’t have to get on congested roads because they’ll be near the area if a call comes in,” Breedlove said. “It’s also likely that we’ll set up a regional incident command center to manage any emergencies that might arise.”

Public safety announcements will be made on the NCEclipse Twitter account and possibly through N.C. Department of Transportation message boards.

With about 600 parking spots in downtown Sylva, eclipse viewers are encouraged to arrive early to prevent being stuck in traffic during the event.

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