Most people in western Nebraska have never seen a solar eclipse live. Aug. 21, 2017 is probably the only time area residents will get a chance.

Totality in Scottsbluff will last 2 minutes, 30 seconds, but organizers have been planning for some time to make the entire day and event to remember.

This will be the first solar eclipse visible in the continental United States since 1979. It is the first solar eclipse to travel coast to coast nearly 100 years. Millions of people are expected to see it live somewhere among the towns from Newport and Lincoln City, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. It’s scheduled to hit Scottsbluff at 11:48 a.m.

Hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts are already reserving rooms for the event.

“We’ve been getting emails about what we’re doing,” said A.J. Legault, chief park ranger at Agate Fossil Beds. “I find it amazing because I haven’t even planned for dinner tonight.”

Karla Niedan-Streeks, executive director at the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she has been fielding phone calls for the last two years about available hotel rooms. The hardcore viewers have planned well in advance.

“All of the scientific type people have had their plans in place for over two years,” Niedan-Streeks said.

During a planning event on Tuesday, organizers continued working on their strategies to make the solar eclipse a day-long event so families with children and non-scientific people can learn and enjoy the day. Legault said Agate is planning on having extra porta-potties and hopes to bring food vendors to the park so everything someone would need will be on site.

“We’re working to bring events and activities for the kids all day,” Legault said. “We don’t want people to be bored.”

During the solar eclipse, from start to finish, the sun’s altitude will be between 45 and 60 degrees, with 56 degrees at the time of greatest eclipse.

The time of the start of the partial stage of the eclipse (first contact) is 10:26 a.m. The time of the end of partial stage of the eclipse (4th contact) is 1:15 p.m., according to the Great American Eclipse. Local greatest eclipse will occur at 11:48 a.m.

The path of the eclipse cuts across Nebraska from the Panhandle to the southeast corner of the state. Eclipse expert Michael Zeiler named Nebraska as the #4 viewing location in the U.S. to view the 2017 total solar eclipse. The eclipse is predicted to be one of the biggest tourism events in the U.S. Communities across western Nebraska are planning events and viewing parties.

According to Brian Ventrudo at Cosmic Pursuits, the Nebraska Sandhills will be the fourth best place in the nation to watch the event. Ventrudo cited Nebraska’s favorable weather and road access as two reasons why.

“The path of the eclipse runs from the northwestern to southeastern tips of the state from 1:46 p.m. MDT to 2:09 p.m. MDT,” Ventrudo wrote. “Highway I-80 from North Platte to Lincoln will serve as a main artery for eclipse chasers who can use the good road network here to move toward better weather. On the I-80 just south of Grand Island, the eclipse lasts 2 minutes and 30 seconds.”

Parts of the sun that are not normally visible to the naked eye, such as the corona and prominences, can be seen during a total solar eclipse. They are often visible between the second contact and third contact of a total solar eclipse.

The Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau and Scotts Bluff County Area Visitors Bureau and other tourism bureaus in the eclipse’s corridor have given money to the state to promote the event. Statewide, $100,000 is being spent, with the state giving $50,000 in matching money to advertise the Nebraska corridor.

One of the biggest concerns organizers are still working is the logistics of parking at the Scotts Bluff National Monument. The monument has a maximum of 60 spots. Park Ranger Leslie Gaunt said many of her park rangers would be stationed along trails at the monument to keep people on the trail.

“My biggest fear, is people will park and then try to walk on the highway,” said Brenda Leisy, tourism director, Scotts Bluff County Area Visitors Bureau. “People will get hurt.”

Over the next year, plans will be finalized as the both bureaus work together to put on a show before and after the total solar eclipse. They hope it will be one that will be remembered for a lifetime. The next solar eclipse to pass through Nebraska will be June 11, 2048, but it will only be visible in the eastern part of the state.

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