By MARTHA WELLS, InDepthNH.org
PITTSBURG – On April 8 at 3:28:18 PM EDT, in the northernmost town of New Hampshire, a total eclipse of the sun will commence.
And the folks of Pittsburg want to be ready to welcome a slew of visitors who are expected to come and witness this once-in-a-lifetime happening.
About 50 townspeople and business owners met at the Pittsburg Fire Station Wednesday to ask questions and share information and a joke or two.
For 3 minutes and 15 seconds on April 8, the moon will completely cover the light of the sun, producing a once-in-a-lifetime view of the sky for local observers. New Hampshire hasn’t been in the direct path of a solar eclipse since 1959 and won’t be again until 2079.
Lancaster falls on the eastern line of the Great North American Solar Eclipse path and will experience totality for about 43 seconds.
Both the center and western lines of the eclipse path bypass New Hampshire and land in Canada. Consequently, the duration of totality will vary from 43 seconds in the southern reaches of the Great North Woods to 3 minutes 15 seconds at the northern tip of the region.
Pittsburg Selectman Steve Ellis acknowledged the task ahead.
“This is a difficult thing for the town. If you told me to prepare for 5,000 people, I could do that. For 30,000 people? That would be difficult,” Ellis told the crowd.
One attendee asked about the source of the visitor estimates and Cheryl Sessa, Town Administrator, explained that the number came from an Oregon town that was in the path of totality for the August 21, 2017, Great American Eclipse.
Jude Marquis, owner of the Buck Rub Pub & Lodge, asked if anyone has contacted the NH Department of Tourism. Police Chief Rick Dube responded that another officer from his department called and was told that the state anticipated 4,000. Marquis countered that at a meeting hosted by the NH Department of Tourism last year, “They said 20,000-30,000.”
In response, and in the theme of the meeting, Ellis said, “We need to be as prepared as we can be.” He reassured meeting goers of the work that has already been done.
“The Town has been engaged in a lot of meetings, especially with the Chief on policing, communication, and other issues. We’ve committed a lot of time to that.”
To mitigate potential issues for visitors, he implored business owners to assist in preparing a list of recommendations for visitors to be posted on the town website.
He noted that to this point, the list included the following: limited availability of viewing areas with some town roads still closed for winter; limited cellphone coverage; bring a trash container (carry out what you carry in); bring food as restaurants may be at capacity; gas up your vehicle prior to arrival; parking will be limited – pay attention to signage posted; be careful where you park or you may get stuck; dress for cold weather (temperature can fluctuate greatly and tends to be below freezing that time of year); be prepared for traffic congestion, especially when the eclipse is over.
Steve Baillargeon, co-owner of ATV and snowmobile rental business Bear Rock Adventures, asked about visitor access to facilities. He said he was able to secure six porta-potties, but wondered what else would be available. Sessa clarified that the Town was able to reserve ten units, and Ellis encouraged businesses present to rent units to accommodate their guests.
Stressing the lack of infrastructure and services, Marquis of Buck Rub Pub & Lodge joked, “Now I can’t get a porta-potty because [Bear Rock Adventures] has them all.”
Rogue camping was another concern expressed by business owners. Police Chief Dube said he would ticket offenders and cited a town ordinance against the practice. There were no hands raised when Ellis inquired if any of the lodges present still had rooms available. Ellis highlighted an opportunity for businesses to expand their offerings to camping, and Dube asked if, for example, Lopstick Lodge might have space.
Lopstick Manager and owner of Lakeview Cabins, Joel Young, responded, that while the Lodge would like to be able to accommodate more guests, “Where will they go to the bathroom?”
Around concerns of traffic congestion and maintaining access to emergency services, Dube said, “Route 3 is not a parking lot.”
He said that a primary objective will be to keep roads clear for emergency service vehicles. He added that although New Hampshire State Police have been assisting in the planning process, they can’t currently commit an officer to the town because of staff shortages. First Aid will be available at Pittsburg School.
Highlighting the remote nature of Pittsburg, Dube said representatives from NH Fish & Game have been present at all meetings he has attended and it is to be determined whether the agency will be able to commit an airboat to the area for the eclipse.
He added that the NH National Guard will stage a Black Hawk crew in Berlin in case of a need for helicopter rescue. Dube is also hoping to procure volunteer firefighters and EMTs from downstate for the event.
Referring to business owners, he said, “My hope is to pair you guys with a few of them to show them where to go because you guys know where to go.”
Anthony Puglisi of Puglisi Towing, inquired if there will be measures to keep people off the lakes in Pittsburg.
Ellis said there are limitations for the town to block boat launches as these are on state property. Puglisi also asked if gates to roads on the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Property–typically still open that time of year for snowmobiling–would be closed.
Dube responded that NH Bureau of Trails confirmed that it will dam up any roadway openings with snowbanks to prevent vehicles from entering.
Regarding healthcare services, Ellis said that a First Aid station would be set up in Pittsburg School. Ellis asked Lindsay Lea, Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President of Clinical Services at Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital, to briefly explain what the facility has been doing to prepare. Lea said that she has been participating in weekly meetings with state agencies to look for help for First Aid tents and discuss strategies for keeping roads clear to facilities. Affirming support from the state, Lea said that representatives from State Police were present for a meeting in Colebrook yesterday and said of the agency’s presence for the eclipse, “They said they’ll be there.”
Ellis concluded the meeting saying, “Hopefully you’ll realize there have been a lot of people meeting to plan for this.” He requested that businesses continue to communicate their marketing plans to the town office.
Chief Dube asked if the businesses present would like to meet again in advance of the eclipse and in response to a emphatic “Yes!” from the audience, a plan was made for a follow up meeting to be scheduled for mid- to late-February.
Martha Wells writes occasional stories for InDepthNH.org with a focus on North Country news. She grew up in Colebrook and now lives in Pittsburg. For inquiries, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org