A small town preparing for a big event

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Mitchell's geographic location makes it a potential hot spot for total eclipse

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY SUSIE CARROLL - Businesses in the 130-person community of Mitchell are developing strategies on what to offer the possible thousands of people who will come to the community to view the solar eclipse on Aug. 21.
Businesses in the 130-person community of Mitchell are developing strategies on what to offer the possible thousands of people who will come to the community to view the solar eclipse on Aug. 21.

As efforts in Central Oregon continue in preparation for the solar eclipse this summer, Madras and Prineville have received a lot of attention.

Madras is one of the best viewing locations in the area, and Prineville, while not as optimal as Madras, is still one of the premier places to the see the Aug. 21 rarity.

But another, much smaller community east of Prineville is expected to provide views of the eclipse comparable to Madras. And its leaders are preparing for their own surge of visitors.

Mitchell is home to 130 residents officially, but because they are in the path of the best viewing locations for the eclipse — like Madras — they have spent the past two years laying groundwork to support the event.

According to Mitchell City Clerk Susie Carroll, community leaders first hoped to secure use of some BLM properties to accommodate visitors and free up space in town.

"They had to do a bunch of studies before they could let us know," she said of BLM approval. Once those studies concluded, the BLM requested they install a fence alongside a creek on the property.

"That's three quarters of a mile, and that is really cost prohibitive to just throw a fence up for a week," Carroll said.

Then, shortly after learning of that requirement, the City of Mitchell's insurance company announced they would not insure use of the property.

"They said they wouldn't insure for any cities on non-owned property," she said. "So that went by the wayside."

This left Mitchell with its city park, which they have offered to East Bay Astronomical Society, based out of Oakland, Calif.

"We are hoping that a bunch of astronomers will come and be in the park," Carroll remarked.

During the past couple years of preparation, community leaders have frequently discussed how many people they should expect to see in Mitchell during the week of the eclipse.

"Numbers fly all around and the most common number that you hear is 50,000," Carroll said. "But you never know if that many people will show up. It is kind of a crapshoot."

Carroll is adamant that Mitchell could not support 50,000 visitors, saying there is simply not enough room, but the community is doing its best to prepare for however many people do show up for the eclipse. A meeting of local businesses is scheduled for mid-March, and owners will discuss whether to bring in refrigerated trucks with water and ice or offer other special amenities.

"We have suggested to the restaurants that rather than having a full menu, you have two or three items and that's it," Carroll said. "We have set out staging areas for fire and ambulance — our one ambulance."

As the eclipse approaches, community leaders are not the only ones who have had the event on the brain. Local residents are talking about it too.

"There is lots of buzz," Carroll said.