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Zooming in for a 'total' grasp on 2024's eclipse

By Joanne Beck
GC chamber group in solar glasses
2023 File Photo of the unveiling for Genesee the Eclipse marketing message and Genny the Cow mascot for the April 2024 total eclipse weekend event. Photo by Joanne Beck

Planning a year out for an event may seem to be a bit of overkill — after all, it’s an entire year away, and there are 365 days to get things and people in place, so what’s the rush, right?

Well, for the county’s Chamber of Commerce, school districts, businesses, nonprofits and other organizations, those days, weeks and months are filling up quickly with to-do lists for the 2024 debut of the first total eclipse to grace this area in decades, and not another one to arrive for 126 more years. 

For the latest planning meeting this week, 43 people registered to sit in, and momentum is building, Chamber President Brian Cousins says.

“I believe there are more than a few businesses and organizations that are jumping on board already and taking an interest.  The three presenters today – Holland Land Office, Batavia Downs, and Genesee County Parks — are all in development of their planning, brainstorming elements to have, and creating programs to ensure public interest,” Cousins said Tuesday. “There are certainly more, which we engage with often – and invite them all to share in their ideas.  Being creative and promoting individual organizations and businesses during the eclipse will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Unlike the county fair and other yearly signature events that are planned well in advance and are continuously being updated and tweaked, this is a one-shot deal for these organizers and the folks counting on a fun event during this particular weekend in April 2024.

Genny the cow mascot

There was a kick-off celebration and unveiling of Genny the cow and mascot last month for the Genesee the Eclipse marketing message for the county, and there have been monthly Zoom meetings for stakeholders wanting a piece of the action come to the special 2024 event.

What does that actually mean for Genesee County?

  • Educational opportunities for students
  • Telescope lending library programs Rules and protocols for navigating the roads during what could be a mad dash to find a spot to sit and experience the three-minute, 42-second eclipse 
  • Related safety measures by law enforcement 
  • Orders of enough amenities for visitors 
  • Event merchandise to sell (the Chamber will have T-shirts, sweatshirts, and solar glasses)
  • Musical entertainment, parking lot configurations
  • Alerting local retailers to prepare with sufficient inventory for shoppers, and forewarning residents about potential traffic delays and increased demands for food and beverages 
  • Hundreds of senior citizens at Batavia Downs
  • Historically relevant details culled from Holland Land Office

Treat it like a Super Bowl
Trish Erzfeld, who led her county’s efforts during the 2017 eclipse in Missouri, was quite familiar with locals asking, “What’s all the fuss about” during early planning stages.

“It’s just a really weird two minutes, 40 seconds. They didn’t know how to relate to it,” she said during May’s Zoom meeting this week.

But then Erzfeld put it in terms that most anyone can relate to: think about the Super Bowl or the Kentucky Derby. Those events aren’t so much about one singular moment, but about the experience, she said. There’s the camaraderie, the crowd, and, perhaps the best part — the tailgating, with themes, food, decor, drinks, clothing colors and a unity in spirit.

Now you’re talking — that’s what planning and coming together for the eclipse is all about, she said, as meeting participants agreed. 

They all wish to make this a weekend experience for residents and visitors alike, in which they will remember it, cherish it, talk about it, and think fondly enough of this community that they might just want to make a return visit to see the Holland Land Office Museum, or place some bets at Batavia Downs, eat at that fun downtown restaurant, grab a craft brew, or shop for fine men’s wear.

Economic Boon
The largest factor in developing plans this far out is for those that will not be in the path of complete totality, but will make plans to travel to our community for the event, Cousins said.

Erzfeld, who is also director of Perry County's Missouri Heritage Tour, outlined that all of their hotels and restaurants were “packed full the entire weekend of the eclipse in 2017 (which was also a Monday),” he said.

“The economic impact and opportunity that our community has is tremendous.  Being able to promote those plans in advance to those that are looking to view the eclipse in our area is very important,” Cousins said. “In thinking about the impact that we can have on a personal level, there’s not many events that everyone gets to experience at the same time together in one community. We are incredibly lucky, and I’d like to be able to say that we all rallied around this event that was something special for us all to share – that was positive, natural, and awe-inspiring.”

Think of customers, employees, scheduling
Some business owners may operate as if nothing is different, Erzfeld said. However, most may want to consider the services they offer and how they can be as customer-friendly as possible, such as:

  • Closing for the day and allowing employees and customers to enjoy the festivities.
  • Revising hours based on activities happening on that Monday (total eclipse day).
  • Think ahead of what will happen if clients cancel.
  • Can you provide your parking lot as a viewing space.
  • Will you coordinate special sales with the eclipse theme.

No matter what the business — from a veterinarian, beauty spa, hotel and gym to dog groomer, dentist and clothing store, it’s client-based and is worth some consideration of how you want to handle that April weekend and especially Monday, she said.

Her community provided free parking and entertainment for visitors, plus transported folks from nearby hotels into town, and made many connections with people who have since made repeat trips back to visit, she said.

Her county, population 19,000, saw an influx of about 10,000 people from 36 states and 17 countries during the 2017 eclipse. There is great interest in this kind of thing, and people are willing to travel for it.

Cool, weird shadows
Shannon Lyaski spoke about plans — from basic to the weird — at Genesee County Park.

“Generally speaking, people are going to be showing up, you know, being ready to view the eclipse. And just, you know, making sure that there's porta potties, making sure that there are people there to direct the traffic in the parking lot, especially because in April, it's likely to be muddy, and we don't want parking on the lawns and stuff like that. So we'll have volunteers helping with parking, really, you know, the show is happening in the sky,” she said. “It’s just such a cool thing that's happening. 

"We're planning to have possibly some white canvases, either on the side of the building or on the ground," she said. "Because one of the natural phenomenon that happens during a total solar eclipse is shadow bands, you get these really weird shadows happening because of the way the (sun) light is bending around the moon, and the corona is visible, which is also really cool. But because of the way the light is coming through the atmosphere, you get these really weird shadows.”

There won’t be leaves on the trees, allowing for a lot of open space to see, she said. There may be a bounce house for kids since no one is expecting them to just sit there waiting for this thing in the sky to happen, she said.

The Rochester Museum and Science Center has an eclipse ambassador program with funding for 50 organizations, most of which are centered around the city of Rochester, she said, however, “We became recipients of that, and so we are getting … a $,1000 stipend to help with expenses to support the programming around the eclipse. 

"Also, a telescope is included, which is very beneficial to the park, because then this is something we can use for future events as well.”

She is trying to get a big screen “so that everyone can see what’s happening in the telescope,” she said, in addition to everyone having eclipse glasses.

There’s is no camping at the park, and no horses will be allowed during this event, she said.

“We’re promoting ‘leave-no-trace.’ We want people to enjoy the park, but not destroy it either,” she said. “We’re very excited, when I’ve talked to other parks, there is a darker sky there.”

Going home to roost, building educational lessons
Erzfeld described the eerie sense of environment when the eclipse was coming. True to lore and rumors, cows did return to the barn, and chickens went home to roost. Skies began to get darker as the wind shifted. If one was living in a more primitive time, it certainly could be perceived as the end of time, she said.

And on that note, Erzfeld encouraged participants to think long-term with their planning, and to make their efforts and related materials outlast the April 2024 event. For example, Missouri folks crafted a special sundial that still sits on the courthouse lawn to commemorate the 2017 eclipse event they had.

“So it was a real challenge in 2017, because, like I said, nobody really knew how to wrap their arms around this. So we ended up doing a lot of community outreach and community educating,” she said. “Our schools, I think our science teachers got behind it. But there could have been so much more because your music teachers can get behind this, your art teachers can get behind this, your language, English teachers, you know, and poetry and stuff. So I think our teachers will do a much better job this time around in bringing whatever they teach — their own little spin on the Eclipse, and that's what we're encouraging them to do.”

County school districts are getting the day off during the eclipse on that Monday, and educators are working on programs and activities related to the event.

"We welcome all organizations, businesses, and community leaders to attend our monthly Zoom calls to hear about the planning, create ideas, share brainstorming, and develop a sense of urgency for those plans – so we can present a great showcased event for those outside our community that may visit," Cousins said.  

They are able to join in and participate here 

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