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Visitors Council: eclipse exceeded expectations

Sep 28, 2017 From staff reports

The Wind River Visitors Council spent more than a year fixated on Aug. 21's total solar eclipse. Expectations were high, but after a month of research, the group's marketing director, Paula McCormick said the reality exceeded expectations.

She had anticipated 10,000-20,000 people will flocking to Fremont County leading up to the days of the eclipse.

While it's nearly impossible to get an accurate read of the number of visitors, hotels and campgrounds both neared capacity the weekend of the eclipse across the county. Additional lodging -- like AirBnBs, new camping areas, and locals hosting family -- was also used by thousands of travelers.

The 1838 Mountain Man Rendezvous site in Riverton had 665 weekend campers with an additional 135 day-of visitors.

Though more people may have attended the eclipse than expected, there were certainly no less than the WRVC estimate, McCormick said.

Towns like Pavillion, Dubois, Crowheart, Riverton and Shoshoni were hopping the morning and early afternoon of Aug. 21.

"Pavillion's population doubled for the day. The energy was amazing," Pavillion town clerk Becky Hatcher said.

Areas on the edge of totality, like Lander, also saw their increased traffic -- including that final outgoing traffic jam -- in the days leading up to the eclipse and the afternoon after totality.

"We had over 2,000 visitors and the traffic was overwhelming," said Margaret Appleby of Museum of the American West. "We had over 30 countries at our museum site on Saturday."

Jason Hunter, a regional wildlife supervisor for Wyoming Game and Fish, said personnel in the Lander region contacted over 10,000 individuals throughout the event.

He reported that 3,000-4,000 went through the Whiskey Basin information station, 800-900 camped at Ocean Lake the evening prior to the eclipse and even more vehicles showed up the day of, and nearly 400 people passed through the WGFD information booth in Dubois.

The region was expected to quiet down quickly after the eclipse, but a larger number of travelers than expected planned extended stays around the eclipse, particularly staying in Wyoming after Aug. 21.

"Speaking with Rick Collignon at the Dubois KOA Campground, they were not only full the week before the eclipse, but after their visitors began leaving on Aug. 21, they were 'refilled' by post-eclipse travelers for another week by campers coming south from Jackson and the national parks," McCormick said.

Hoping to pay dividends for local businesses, the Wind River Visitors Council tried to promote every event and service.

"In December, when I first decided to 'go for it,' I did extensive research on what other campgrounds in our area were charging for eclipse camping," said Paulette Moss of the Jim Moss Arena near Riverton. "At that time, I based our rates on them, but I tried to offer a little more, for a little less -- simply because we are not a conventional campground. We ended up with about 145 reservations, from about 10 different countries and about 22 different states."

McCormick said the actual results on sales and lodging tax collections and estimated number of travelers should be available in October. An eclipse economic impact study by the Wyoming Office of Tourism is also being produced.

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