Seven months out, preparations in Arkansas are well under way for the April 2024 total eclipse

The 2017 solar eclipse's totality was seen over Cobden in southern Illinois..(Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler) ..For adgsuneclipse2023
The 2017 solar eclipse's totality was seen over Cobden in southern Illinois..(Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler) ..For adgsuneclipse2023

For Kevin and Cheri Goggans, it was business as usual at their Mountain View bed-and-breakfast the morning of April 8.

That was the case until a very specific national news report came on TV.

Kevin remembers that a map of North America was displayed onscreen identifying 20 cities and towns from Mexico City up to Canada.

Of those cities, two were in Arkansas: Little Rock and Mountain View.

The map showed the projected path of a solar eclipse that would occur a year from then, on Monday, April 8, 2024. Ninety-four percent of the state would have some obscurity of the sun. However, anyone wanting to experience a total eclipse lasting up to four minutes and 18 seconds would need be in the western and north-central parts of the state.

"Within minutes" of the report's conclusion, phones started ringing at The Inn at Mountain View in attempts to reserve one of its 10 rooms.

"My wife booked up all the rooms while our guests were eating breakfast," recalled Goggans, who would later become chairman of the town's eclipse committee.

Those future guests -- none of whom have ever visited the town in Stone County -- hail from Alabama, Minnesota, Louisiana and Oklahoma, and will be among an estimated 1.5 million visitors who will cram into the state for the weekend in order to look up for a few minutes.

At least for the Gogganses, the countdown to Arkansas' first total solar eclipse in more than 100 years had begun.


Last Thursday marked 200 days until next year's total eclipse, which will be the last in the United States until 2045.

The last time a total solar eclipse crept across Arkansas was in June 1918, when World War I was still five months away from its conclusion.

Unfortunately for Central Arkansans of the time, many didn't experience it in all of its pitch-black glory.

According to the June 10, 1918, Arkansas Democrat, "Little Rock was not given a chance to view the total eclipse."

While it was supposed to have 98% sun obscurity, "heavy cloud banks ... ruined the view from the city." Sixty-eight miles to the southwest in Arkadelphia, "a good view was had" of the total eclipse.

The celestial event on April 8 could always wind up a bust due to clouds or weather, but that's not stopping the state and cities from preparing for the event, which one official said could draw visitors to the state that rival "10 Arkansas (Razorback) games all at one time."

Dave Parker, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Transportation, said state officials had initial discussions regarding the eclipse starting roughly two years ago, well ahead of the arrival of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' administration.

"Obviously, then the conversation was 'wow, we're two years away, it's hard to get our head around it,'" recalled Parker.

Those discussions revolved around the need for a traffic management plan and the tourism impact of having 1.5 million visitors in the state over four days, on top of its 3 million residents.

"We couldn't really make any decision, certainly because we knew a new administration was coming, and now that it has, we've amped up our meetings," Parker said.

Those meetings, which have occurred monthly since May, include the Department of Transportation, the Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism, the Department of Public Safety (which includes the state police), the Division of Emergency Management, partners in the private sector and federal agencies like the Corps of Engineers and parks officials.

"We're hosting these coordination meetings hoping to identify resource needs, filling some gaps if we need to, talking about communications, any kind of mass care needs, as in any sheltering," said Scott Bass, deputy director for preparedness and response at the Division of Emergency Management. "Transportation is going to be a big part of that."

Capt. Brad Lann, with the Arkansas State Police, said the agency's main concern 200 days out was the potential for accidents and congested traffic.

"We're basically going to have all hands on deck and have everybody out in the field that we can," Lann said. "We'll pre-position troopers in different places. That way they can respond to things a lot quicker and get those things moved off of the interstates and state highways as quickly as possible. Prior to those days, we're going to work with ArDOT in trying to make sure our (highway) shoulders are clear of debris or try to remove any abandoned vehicles that we can. That way our emergency vehicles can get to those accident scenes as quickly as possible and get them clear and get them moved off."

With the height of the total eclipse passing through the west-central part of the state, a focus will likely be put on Russellville and Polk County, Lann noted.

"It's still early for us to say exactly where we're going to pull all of our triggers just yet," Lann said. "We'll be able to tell a little bit closer to the end of the year, first of next year, where all of the hotels are booked. I know there's a lot of people renting out farmland and stuff like that to allow campers and campsites. So once we have a better idea of where the majority of the people will be, we can kind of ship our troopers into those areas."

Parker, who said a traffic management plan could be done in a couple of weeks, detailed ArDOT's checklist of measures it's looking at taking to prevent as much mayhem as possible come mid-day on April 8.

It includes extra staffing at its traffic management center, increasing the number of electronic message boards across the interstates and highways, plus installing additional highway cameras and portable message boards in the areas projected to see high traffic numbers.

ArDOT has been in contact with the Trucking Association in order to minimize oversized loads during the period around the eclipse.

There's also been contact with the highway departments of Missouri, South Dakota and South Carolina, states that experienced the total eclipse in 2017 when an estimated 21 million Americans travelled to a different location to view it.

When a Missouri department official was contacted roughly a year ago for advice, according to Parker, his response was, "You're already way ahead of us by calling me."

Early next year -- possibly in February -- a routine tabletop exercise will be held in the final run-up to the eclipse, Bass said, "walking through the different steps and finalizing our plans. ... It's discussion points, talking through processes, talking through needs, talking through objectives."

Even with years of preparation, Parker admitted there will be some headaches come April 8.

"Regardless of what plan you put in place, there's going to be congestion, and there's no way you're going to create a plan that's going to make things flow perfectly," Parker said.

The congestion won't be limited to highways.

Camping sites throughout the western part of the state are already at a premium.

Twenty-one of Arkansas' 52 state parks are in the path of totality, according to the tourism department.

Reservations for those parks during the eclipse weekend opened up on April 8 of this year, with a four-day minimum for bookings.

Fifteen of the parks are completely booked, and four parks have limited availability. State parks have almost 1,500 (1,455) individual reservations booked within all 33 parks that have overnight accommodations.

"We've kind of followed what happened in Wyoming and South Carolina in 2017, and Kentucky," said Shealyn Sowers, chief of communications for the tourism department. "Arkansas is more in the center of the nation, so we're easier to get to than Wyoming and South Carolina, we think."

In addition to the state parks system, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers will be opening 13 Little Rock-area campsite locations on March 15, 60 days ahead of time, to help with a surge of visitors for the eclipse. This change will open more than 430 additional sites to accommodate eclipse traffic.


On any given weekday, 743 people reside in Hardy, the tourist town located in Sharp County. On weekends, it jumps to 2,500, including tourists.

Come holidays -- Memorial Day or the Fourth of July -- you can find up to 12,500 people enjoying the town and its 131 licensed businesses.

However, April 8 -- less than seven months away -- won't be just another day for Hardy or other small towns in the path of the total eclipse.

"We're just comparing this to a very, very, very, very, very busy holiday weekend," said Mayor Ethan J. Barnes. "Holiday weekend numbers times probably about four or five."

Barnes said a representative of the area's Spring River Area Chamber of Commerce will travel to Texas next month, when that state will experience a partial eclipse, in an effort to get a "grasp and handle" on what Arkansas is in store for.

To the southwest is Clinton, a town of roughly 3,000 on normal occasions that sees 30,000 for its annual chuck wagon races.

"This will be that on steroids," said Mayor Richard McCormac. "It'll be a lot worse, and we know that."

Town officials met with the county last year and recommended a "top-down" approach to coordination with other cities and the state police, specifically when it came to egress and ingress for U.S. 65, and also making sure the town's roughly 50 volunteer firefighters are on alert that weekend.

Of what the small town faces in dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime event, McCormac put it in sports terms.

"It's like a little team, Holy Cross, playing Notre Dame," McCormac said. "You're gonna have a plan, but you're going to be overwhelmed with some stuff. But, if you got the right people in the departments, which we have ... hopefully, we'll have a good turnout. Hope we have great weather and the eclipse will take care of itself."

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