Fewer eclipse visitors didn’t lessen the excitement

LIMA — Preliminary predictions as recently as February estimated the population of Allen County would swell by 100,000 on a single day in April for the opportunity to view the rarity of a total solar eclipse.

That guesstimate was perhaps a best-case scenario, or perhaps a worst-case prediction, as emergency preparedness officials were forced to be ready for any number of health and safety scenarios.

For better or worse that prediction failed to materialize for Monday’s eclipse. While the official estimate of the number of travelers to Allen County on Monday was unavailable, far fewer visitors than anticipated found their way to Allen County.

County officials, first responders, law enforcement and other safety service representatives started planning for the 2024 eclipse nearly three years ago after horror stories emerged concerning communities in Kentucky which were unprepared for a similar event in 2017. Allen County Sheriff’s Office Major Andre McConnahea was a member of the Emergency Operations Center team that was assembled locally.

“We built the EOC on the advice of agencies who went through the previous experience in Kentucky,” McConnahea said Tuesday.

“Obviously we did not see the number of visitors we had expected. But you plan for the worst and hope for the best. It may seem like overkill, but we really didn’t have any other choice.”

McConnahea said few disruptions were reported Monday in the hours leading up to and following the eclipse. He credited that to the fact that many schools, government offices and private sector businesses were closed for the day.

“The normal daytime traffic being absent, I believe, really helped keep (traffic) congestion down,” he said.

ODOT officials ‘very pleased’

Cheri Newton, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Transportation’s District 1 — which covers Allen, Defiance, Hancock, Hardin, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert and Wyandot counties — said there were few traffic incidents during Monday’s celestial event.

“We were very pleased with how the whole thing went,” Newton said. “There were very few incidents of people parking along the berm or in the median and there were no major traffic crashes.”

ODOT officials noticed a swell in traffic on Interstate-75 in Findlay both before and after the eclipse.

“The amount of traffic was about double the normal amount going southbound before the eclipse and northbound afterwards,” Newton said.

A train on U.S. 31 had traffic backed up for five miles as eclipse viewers headed south, Newton said.

A ‘weird day …’

Tyler Black, executive director of the Johnny Appleseed Metro Park District, said visitors filled Ottawa Metro Park to capacity for Monday’s eclipse.

“It was a weird day, but a good day,” Black said Tuesday.

“At the Ottawa park leading up to the eclipse there were people scattered all over and not a lot of parking spaces. At 3 o’clock there was not an empty parking space in the entire park. We counted license plates from 30 different states. A lot of them were from Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin …”

Black said an eerie, hushed silence fell over the park as the eclipse reached its zenith and entered into totality. “Then shortly thereafter people packed up and left,” he said.

Black said the visitors left the metro park in virtually the same shape as which they found it.

“People were very respectful,” he said. “There was not a lot of trash to pick up. I was impressed.”

In addition to his law enforcement duties, McConnahea slipped on his other public service hat for the eclipse celebration. The newly-elected mayor of Delphos said visitors from Vermont to North Dakota were seen driving around town and attending a host of weekend events planned to coincide with the eclipse.

“An owner of the Top Chalet restaurant, Erica Bowersock Pimpas said there was a huge uptick in business at the restaurant all weekend. And Kelly McCaul North, who was active on the eclipse committee, said there were more than 300 visitors Saturday at the canal museum,” McConnahea noted.

“I think everything went very smoothly.”


See more photos, stories and more about the eclipse at LimaOhio.com/eclipse.