- Associated Press - Monday, July 31, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - State officials are preparing Nebraska’s highways, parks and cities for the upcoming solar eclipse that’s expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday.

Nebraska’s position as a prime viewing spot will mean busier roads, crowded state parks and packed hotels as an estimated 116,000 to 466,000 people converge on the state.

Viewers on a 70-mile-wide path between Nebraska’s northwest to southeast corners will experience a total eclipse, in which the moon completely obscures the sun’s light for a few minutes.

The last total solar eclipse to touch the contiguous 48 United States was in February 1979. If attendance estimates hold, Ricketts said the Aug. 21 event will draw more visitors than any other gathering in state history.

“This is bigger than Nebraska football games, the College World Series and (the annual shareholders meeting of) Berkshire Hathaway combined,” Ricketts said, referring to three of the state’s most popular events.

The Nebraska State Patrol and Department of Transportation are bracing for a large increase in road traffic. The transportation department plans to temporarily reduce the number of construction and maintenance projects scheduled for that day, said deputy director Moe Jamshidi.

Motorists can view traffic conditions on the department’s traveler information website , Jamshidi said.

Jamshidi urged pilots who are flying themselves into the state to contact their destination airport to ensure the facility has adequate fuel. “People should plan ahead and allow extra time to get to a viewing area,” he said.

The Nebraska State Patrol is increasing its on-duty staff and deploying three aircraft during the event to keep traffic flowing and maintain safety, said Major Russ Stanczyk, the patrol’s acting superintendent.

Tourism officials have been working with cities for more than a year to promote local viewing parties and build and advertise Nebraska’s attractions, said Nebraska Tourism Commission Director John Ricks. An event listing is available online .

Ricks said the commission has awarded grants to many cities along the route to help with pre- and post-eclipse events. Virtually all of the hotels and campsites are booked in prime viewing areas.

“This is not a bucket list thing to do; this is a once in a lifetime thing to do,” Ricks said.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has ordered 20,000 pairs of special sunglasses to let visitors view the eclipse without damaging their eyes, said Bob Hanover, an assistant director for the agency.

Hanover urged park-goers to order their permits in advance and prepare for crowded boat ramps. Nearly two dozen events are planned at state parks and wildlife management areas.

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency will open a special emergency operations center during the day to help coordinate state agencies and help local cities and villages, said Earl Imler, the agency’s operations section manager. Nebraska-based representatives of the National Weather Service and the American Red Cross will work at the center to help respond to any emergencies.


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