Central Idaho Prepares For Eclipse But Worries About Traffic, Wildfire And Injuries

Aug 17, 2017

Stanley, Idaho, at dusk, July 2017.
Credit Tom Michael / Boise State Public Radio

If you live here in Idaho, it’s hard to miss stories about Monday’s upcoming eclipse of the sun. For several months, we’ve been visiting the towns and cities along the path of totality. Here we check-in with officials in Stanley, who are concerned about the crowds expected this weekend.

We start at a bakery in Stanley, which is buzzing with breakfast orders. There’s a long queue from the front door to the counter. As the city prepares for the total solar eclipse, Kat Cannell describes the municipal mood as a combination of things.

 

"There's definitely this underlying humming tension. People are a combination of excited and nervous."

 

She says business owners are gearing up for the onslaught of tourists, but she’s worried the hype may be overblown. Her father has been lecturing her about the Y2K scare in 1999, which never materialized. She channels his voice.

"It’s going be like the Millennium. Every body’s getting all worked up and nothing’s gonna happen."

The View From The Porch Of The Sawtooth Hotel, Summer 2017.
Credit Tom Michael / Boise State Public Radio

Over at the Sawtooth Hotel, owner Kelli Kerns walks out onto her sunset deck overlooking the Sawtooth Mountains. She believes the hype. Her staff’s been preparing for this weekend for months.

"I hear it’s going to be busiest the town’s ever seen," she says. For a long time, though, she was unaware it was even happening.

"I got some Europeans coming who booked over a year ago," she recounts. "That’s when I first started getting bookings. I didn’t really realize how big of deal it was, so I didn’t even raise prices. I know other people have raised prices for rooms astronomically."

But walk into the city office, and the anticipation is a bit more restrained. Herb Mumford, the Mayor of City of Stanley, says the official population is 63, but that's more in line with the winter population.

 

"In the summer we have 5,000 or more a week come through the city," he says.

 

Herb Mumford, City Mayor of Stanley, Sits In His Office.
Credit Tom Michael / Boise State Public Radio

As for the the largest crowd he’s ever seen in town, he says maybe 20,000 for the Mountain Mamas weekend in July. For the solar eclipse in late August, he’s predicting two to three times that number. This has him worried.

"All those that have made their plans and know what they’re doing, I’m not really concerned about them. But I’ve met and talked to hundreds of people and I know there are thousands more out there that were not able to get reservation, so they’re going to hop in their car the morning of August 21, and they’re going to be driving up here."

 

Picturing this scene, City Council President Steve Botti audibly sighs, rhetorically asking, "Where will people park? How do we keep the highways open? We’re not sure how people will behave. It’s a question of where all these people can physically be. How do they obtain services like basic things like, where are the restrooms?"

Stanley City Council President Steve Botti Points Out Where The Moon Will Eclipse The Sun Above His Yard
Credit Tom Michael / Boise State Public Radio

Botti is also concerned about injuries because there is one medical clinic in town, which is staffed by one provider. But what tops his worry list – like it does every summer - is wildfire.

"The fear is there will be a greatly increased chance of out-of-bounds campfires or even in-bound campfires."

That’s Mayor Mumford’s hot-button issue, as well.

 

"One of the things that concerns me," Mumford explains, "and I spoke to the Forest Service initially on this, is the danger of fire. I mean it is August. It’s prime wildfire time."

 

He asked the National Forest Service to prohibit out-of-bounds campfires. Earlier this summer, though, he was frustrated with their response.

 

"And I’ve asked them to get this information out at least a month in advance. And they keep pushing back. I keep telling them, no, you’re not getting the picture, I’m not asking for business as usual. Let’s do everything we can to stack the odds in our favor of reducing the probability of a fire."

  

Kat Cannell Has Breakfast At The Stanley Baking Company.
Credit Tom Michael / Boise State Public Radio.

Just this week, it finally happened. On Monday, the Forest Service implemented Stage 1 Fire Restrictions: No campfires except where designated and no smoking near flammable material.

Describing "what’s still fresh in mind," the mayor recounts a June wildfire that raged across a two-lane road in a forested area, killing more than 60, including many stuck in their vehicles. It's a frightening scene that he wants to avoid at all costs.

 

Back at the bakery, Kat Cannell describes her love of small-town life. She grew up riding her horse here for breakfast. So her plans for August 21 don’t come as a surprise

 

"I’m getting out of here," she says laughing. "I’m not going to stick around."

 

She and her husband are wilderness outfitters. She will be looking at the same sun-and-moon combination, just like everyone else across the path of totality. But on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, deep in the Frank Church Wilderness, there just won’t be as many people around.

 

Find Tom Michael on Twitter @tom2michael

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