Colebrook is a nice little town alongside the Connecticut River not far from Quebec that has about 2,000 residents. On April 8, however, it will be a nice little town of … well, nobody really knows.
“Are we going to have 2,000 more people or 10,000? Are we going to have even more than that? We’re not sure,” said Tim Stevens, Colebrook Town Manager.
April 8 is, of course, the day that a total solar eclipse will pass through northern New Hampshire, lasting as long as 3 ½ minutes in mid-afternoon. This will be the state’s last chance to see the amazing natural phenomenon for a couple of generations so a lot of folks will be heading North of the Notches to gaze at it (through proper eyewear, of course).
Incidentally, if you haven’t already found a place to stay, you’re probably out of luck.
“We’ve been booked for two years,” said Shantal Carney at Bear Tree Cabin Lodge in Pittsburg, the last hotel on Route 3 before you get to the Canadian border. Airbnbs also appear to be sold out – I got mine 14 months ago – and many campgrounds aren’t open that early in the year, limiting this option.
Concord will get a pretty good look at the eclipse, with more than 90% of the sun covered by the moon at the 3:29 p.m. peak, but I’ve been told there’s nothing like 100% totality to knock your socks off so I’m going north.
Colebrook is the biggest town that will see totality and since it’s relatively easy to get to, it will be the target of a lot of visitors.
To a certain extent, that’s not a problem. “It’s not our first rodeo. We are used to big events, big crowds,” said Stevens.
The problem is timing.
Regional crowd-drawing events like the Moose Festival always take place in summer rather than late spring and for good reason. “Last year on May 17 we had a snowstorm. In April you don’t know if it will be 50 degrees and three feet of mud or 20 degrees and three feet of snow,” Stevens said.
As a result, North Country restaurants and stores aren’t geared for big crowds in early April. They don’t yet have lots of supplies in stock, they haven’t staffed up, they haven’t prepped the parking lots and buildings. The prospect of 10,000 visitors descending for a couple of days or even a couple of hours and then leaving is, to say the least, unsettling.
“We’re telling businesses to prepare. Restaurants prepare food. And gas, make sure we can have our tanks filled before they come up here on the seventh and eighth or they’ll run out of gas and we won’t have anything,” said Stevens. “It’s the same with grocery stores.”
This isn’t without risk. What if a long-lasting storm moves into the region on April 7 and no day-trippers show up for the eclipse because there will be clouds? Businesses will be stuck with lots of inventory and nobody to buy it for two months, not to mention all the extra staff they’ve lured in who have to be paid.
Still, you’ve got to prepare. New Hampshire Travel and Tourism and local emergency services have begun putting their heads together to plan things as prosaic as having enough porta-potties and as important as placing support services since the usual traffic conduits like Route 3 could be snarled by double-parked skywatchers.
“Ambulances, tow trucks, they need to be parked on both the east and west side of Route 3,” so they won’t be blocked if an emergency arises on the other side of the highway, Stevens pointed out.
I’ve been near a couple of total solar eclipses, including the one that came close-ish to Concord in 2017, and seen one annular eclipse, when the moon is farther away from the Earth and thus appears smaller, leaving a “ring of fire” when centered on the sun. But I’ve never seen the whole enchilada and am very psyched.
Maybe I’ll see you there