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Extra porta-potties? Check. Eclipse prep is well under way in Coos County

Almost all of Coos County will fall within the path of the total eclipse on April 8, 2024.
State of New Hampshire
Almost all of Coos County will fall within the path of the total eclipse on April 8, 2024.

If you’re still looking to rent a room in the slice of New Hampshire that will experience a total solar eclipse on April 8, you may be out of luck.

Brooke Kenney, manager of the Northern Comfort Motel in Colebrook, said she’s been totally booked on that date for about five months — and the calls keep coming in.

“We’re getting four to five, if not more, emails or calls a day inquiring about availability,” she said.

Charlene Hardee, whose family owns Bear Rock Suites, has also been fielding a deluge of daily eclipse phone inquiries.

“We've got a waiting list of 26 people,” she said.

In a typical year, April is a quiet month for the small towns of Coos County, a lull between snowmobile season in the winter and ATV season in the summer. But with local officials expecting crowds as big as 50,000 for the total eclipse, this year’s “mud season” will likely see a rare surge in tourists.

“It's hard to prepare for because we're used to having just the local people spending money and not all these people coming into the area,” Kenney said.

She’s started offering people the opportunity to camp in a field adjacent to the motel, but so far no one has taken her up on the prospect. Other residents said they knew people renting out spare rooms in their homes to accommodate eclipse-watchers.

Tim Stevens, Colebrook’s town manager, has been working with local residents and public safety officials to get ready for the eclipse for the past year. He has been trying to anticipate the myriad of ways the astronomical event and all the visitors it might bring could impact the town — from local ATM machines potentially running out of cash to the need for extra porta-potties and trash cans. Colebrook schools are canceled for the day of the eclipse and will have a remote learning day the day after, he said, in part so school buses are not stuck amid the traffic of visitors leaving.

Stevens has been trying to be as proactive as possible, but unknown factors like weather and crowd size make precise planning challenging. April weather in the North Country can range widely, he said, with some years seeing snow and others warm and sunny. Clouds or rain — never far off in Northern New England in spring — could mean the eclipse itself is partially obscured.

“You kind of got that playing that guessing game of, ‘We want to be prepared as best we can and make the best of it,’ but the other side of that is we don't want to overshoot and just end up having a huge waste,” he said.

Eric Cross, manager of Black Bear Tavern in Colebrook, has been working with the town and planning for months to make sure his restaurant can capitalize on the crowds without being overwhelmed. He said they’ve stocked up on food and rented extra land and hired extra help for parking at the restaurant.

“We won't be running our regular menu on Sunday or Monday,” Cross said. “We're going to be doing a buffet so we don't have to facilitate taking orders.”

Ben Gaetjens-Oleson, town manager of Lancaster, said local restaurants in his town are also changing their normal procedures.

“Our food service industry in Lancaster, at least half of those [restaurants] are always usually closed on Mondays,” he said. “Pretty much all of them have decided to be open on Monday because they realize the opportunity to capture that extra business.”

Stevens has advised local residents to stay off the roads as much as possible on April 8. Part of the concern over heavy traffic in the area is that many of the local roads are not paved, which may make them particularly dangerous at a time of year when conditions are typically muddy.

Stevens has also encouraged locals to stock up on essential supplies early, in case traffic prevents easy travel or the crowds leave empty shelves in their wake.

Cross said he is more worried about the aftermath of the event, once the bulk of visitors head south in the days after the eclipse.

“[Stores] are going to be empty and the gas stations are going to be empty,” he said. “And we're going to be waiting on resupplying.”

Gaetjens-Oleson is less skeptical that the eclipse will disturb local life substantially. He said that northern New Hampshire is not the only place experiencing totality and many other places along the path include bigger cities that will likely attract more visitors. He said he expects regional traffic in Coos will not be much different than holiday weekends in the summer.

“We’re used to it. We can handle it,” he said.

Stevens said he has encountered a mix of attitudes among residents in his preparation for April 8.

“There are people that think it's a big hype, and it's not going to be that big of a deal,” he said “And I get other people that think it's the apocalypse, and ‘God hope we make it through this whole thing.’ ”