Cashing in on the Eclipse

Idahoans Seized the Day

Laura Whitney Nov 1, 2017

Ninety-nine years after the last total solar eclipse crossed the United States coast to coast, countless Idahoans had front row seats to this astrological event on Aug. 21.

The opportunity to cash in on those two minutes of darkened sky was irresistible to many locals whose homes, farms and businesses were in its path. Renting out space in their homes or yards was a popular way to boost their bank accounts.

Jake Ethington of Victor, Idaho, and his brother were among the many who chose to post their property on Airbnb to provide camping for eclipse viewers. “We knew hotels had been rented out for years at a very high price, and so we started thinking about how we might provide housing to people,” he says. Ethington had 15 sites booked on his property before the eclipse weekend began.

Others sold eclipse memorabilia.

Richard Woods, an EMT for the Madison County Fire Department, also manages Karie Anne’s, a food truck in Rexburg that offered novelty eclipse T-shirts for sale over the weekend in addition to its usual fare of Italian ice and custard creations. “The eclipse is a special occasion,” Woods says. “People want shirts that look good and are attractive.”

Besides providing people with memorable attire, the T-shirts served a second purpose for Karie Anne’s. “This gives us a unique business opportunity to spread our name,” Woods says, pointing out the Karie Anne’s logo on the shirts.

A Long Time Coming

“We spent the past year preparing,” Woods says about the solar eclipse that carved a path straight through southeast Idaho. A year may seem like a long time to gear up for a two-minute event, but upward of 50,000 visitors were expected to flood the area. The Madison County Fire Department typically only operates from one fire station and has two backup stations, but for the eclipse they planned to fully staff each station and have all their firefighters available.

Just north of Rexburg, Fremont County prepared similarly. “We had all hands on deck,” says Tyler Summers, deputy sheriff of Fremont County who was on duty to patrol the sand dunes in St. Anthony, Idaho, all weekend.

Along with all the emergency preparation, there was excitement. “This is a good event for our community. It brings in a lot of revenue,” Summers says.

His excitement wasn’t just for the community, but also for himself. “It’ll be a highlight of things I get to see in my career,” Summers said prior to the event.

Eclipse Day and Beyond

Cars lined the streets on the big day while people gathered in fields and on rooftops with their eclipse glasses and telescopes. Then, among gasps and screams of amazement, the sky went dark, a few stars came out, and the sun and moon became an astrological spectacle.

“The solar eclipse was beautiful and miraculous,” says Tyler Summers’ wife, Katie. “It was definitely a memorable event.”

“Glad I was able to experience such a spectacular event right over my hometown skies,” Tyler Summers says.

Ethington was happy as he ended up with 65 guests on his property — more than he expected, but roughly what he hoped for. “The eclipse was definitely incredible, if a tad hard to enjoy because I was running around so much,” he says.

Marcia and Kim Snider headed north from Bountiful, Utah, to watch the eclipse and ended up at EBR-1 Museum, site of the first nuclear reactor. “They were planning for about 2,000 watchers but only about 100 people showed up,” Marcia says.

Once the big show ended, more than 90,000 vehicles streamed out of Idaho that day and the next with no major incidents occurring, according to the Post Register. More than half traveled south on Interstate 15.

“The anticipation was much worse than the event,” Katie Summers says. “There were a lot of tourists in town, but they trickled in one by one over several days.”

“I think the numbers that everyone expected were correct, but because of the wide-open space that our area has to offer, it didn’t impact the communities as harshly as expected,” Tyler Summers says. 

Photos courtesy of Ethan Kiernan and Kevin Kiernan.

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