For those who don’t know, there is a total solar eclipse in about a year, and Southern Illinois will enjoy the greatest duration of totality.
Local officials are projecting thousands of people will be coming into the area. Some officials, like the members of the Jackson County Board, have predicted numbers anywhere between 50,000 to 500,000 people.
On Aug. 21, the first total solar eclipse over the U.S. mainland since 1979 will reach its point of greatest duration a few miles south of Carbondale, totaling about two minutes and 40 seconds when it arrives around 1:21 p.m.
It will be the first total solar eclipse — during which day will turn into night, complete with dropping temperatures and visible stars — to traverse the entire mainland from coast to coast since June 8, 1918.
Just in case those nearly thee minutes of daytime darkness pass you by, you’ll have a second chance when the centerline of totality — roughly a 70-mile wide path of the moon entirely shielding the sun— returns on April 8, 2024.
The two centerlines seven years apart will intersect over Cedar Lake, bringing with them astronomers, students, first-time viewers and those who are known as eclipse chasers from around the world.
If that isn’t enough, the 2017 eclipse comes on Southern Illinois University’s move-in weekend.
There are some major questions that Southern Illinois towns and officials have to figure out. Like, where is everybody going to stay?
Jackson County has recently discussed a camping ordinance where those letting individuals camp on their property would have to obtain a permit. Board member Keith Larkin said the state has a statute regulating campgrounds that operate more than six days a year, but there is nothing to regulate stays for a one- or two-night venture. The board is concerned about somebody with hundreds of acres looking to rent space to campers, but not having the proper facilities for sewage and trash for a potentially large group of eclipse watchers.
“The concern is not that we want to create a license that we can sell,” Larkin said. “The concern is that of public safety. Specifically with camping.”
He said the permit would be a way to know how many people are in the area, and so there would be a way to ensure the properties would be maintained afterward.
The county hadn’t passed an ordinance as of Friday, but the state’s attorney’s office is working on drafting one.
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Jackson County isn’t the only county working on what to do with the influx of people. Towns in Williamson, Perry, Johnson, Saline and Union counties are having informational meetings to decide what to do in less than a year from now.
Visitors could pay a high price to stay a few nights in a hotel. That is, if they can even find an open room for Aug. 20-21.
Several of the bed-and-breakfasts featured on tourism sites in Southern Illinois have been listed as unavailable. The Train Inn in Carbondale is actually selling its availability on eBay starting May 31, 2017. The online auction will run for 10 days, according to the establishment’s website.
Based on searches by The Southern Illinoisan, there are no rooms listed as available at any of the America’s Best Inn and Suites, The Hampton Inn, and Holiday Inn, or Super 8 motels in the area.
There were rooms available at the Econo Lodge, but rates are about triple its normal quote. The hotel’s website lists rooms at $196 in Carbondale and $150 in Marion for one night. For comparison’s sake, booking a night for this Sunday, will cost $64 in Carbondale and $54 in Marion.
The Comfort Inn in Marion has rooms starting at $250 a night, and the Comfort Suites in Marion has rooms at $180.
A visitor could rest his or her head at the Quality Inn in Carbondale for $200 on Aug. 21 However, there was a room for the same night at the Marion Quality Inn listed at $87.
The Best Westerns in the area are all booked up from Carbondale to Chester, but Nashville had a listing at $81.
Hotels aren’t the only option these days for staying the night. Home rental sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and Flipkey can be sources for a night’s stay. These websites typically list homes that have a room for rent, or the entire place for a night. The properties are typically owned by another person that could stay in the home with you for the evening.
Renters would have to set up an account on these sites in order to rent a space.
Searches by the newspaper revealed that Airbnb had 24 listings from the Paducah area to Mount Vernon. Some were listed as low as $20, but owners have the ability to set their prices as they see fit.
HomeAway had five listings within the same parameters, and Flipkey showed five more locations, including a tree house in the Shawnee National Forest for $200 a night.