Southern Illinois prepares for a large crowd for the solar eclipse

By CARLY DICK Feb 8, 2024 Updated Feb 8, 2024

The countdown to the total solar eclipse is on, and businesses in the region are preparing for the thousands of people who will travel to the area.

Southern Illinois will be directly in the path of totality — the best visibility for the eclipse.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is one location in Southern Illinois that expects a big turnout. The refuge will host various events on the weekend leading up to the eclipse.

The Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Service Manager Neil Vincent said this year will look different from past eclipse events.

“We’re planning a little different than we did last year. This is kind of lessons learned. The last eclipse, you know, we just let people show up,” he said.

There will be an increased police presence at the refuge the day of the eclipse to direct high-volume traffic.

“We’re working with the state and the county. We’re going to try to put up direction signs, you know, and push people to certain areas,” Vincent explained.

The refuge also planned for parking and viewing areas. One field is estimated to hold 1,300 cars.

“We’re looking at probably the main areas will be like the Prairie Creek Recreational Area on Route 13 will be where a lot of individuals go. There’s an ag field there. We’re not going to plant that in crops this year to use that field as overflow parking,” Vincent said.

To prepare viewers for the total solar eclipse, the refuge is hosting a photography class at 1 p.m. March 10.

“Prior to the eclipse, scheduled for Sunday, we’re doing a photography eclipse workshop. Anyone wants to get information on the best way to photograph the eclipse, we’ll be doing that here at our visitor’s center,” Vincent said.

On the weekend of the eclipse, the refuge is hosting a family-friendly activity.

“We’re also doing a junior ranger program for the kids to explore the eclipse program. So activities that the kids can do while they’re here. Then, when they leave, they’ll earn like a badge from the refuge,” Vincent explained.

Anyone who owns a boat can use the Crab Orchard Lake to watch the eclipse. There will be reserved parking for boat trailers.

“If you’re wanting to view it from the lake, you know, and you have a boat, you know, what better place to be out in the middle of the lake when the eclipse comes over,” Vincent said.

The campgrounds are completely booked, but the public is still welcome to visit the refuge on the day of the solar eclipse. There will be food trucks and port-a-potties for guests.

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