Are big crowds heading for Malheur County to observe eclipse? Maybe

By Pat Caldwell
The Enterprise
ONTARIO – Oregon officials still forecast one million people could come to the state to watch Monday’s eclipse but there are signs the crowds won’t develop as predicted in Malheur County.
At the Malheur County Fairgrounds, manager Lynelle Christiani said she’s advertised spots for RVs and campers to watch the eclipse at the fairgrounds but response has been spotty.
“We were gearing up for it but so far, as of a week before, I haven’t seen it. I don’t think I even have all of my water and electricity spots rented,” said Christiani. In Brogan, where organizers planned “The day the lights went out in Brogan,” interest has been tepid. Sixty-one camping spaces at the small community remain open, according to Trish Miller, secretary of the Brogan Community Society.
Ontario will offer spots at its golf course, Economic Development Director Dan Cummings said. While there have been 10 reservations logged, Cummings said, most calls revolve around using the area for just the day.
“It is open to dry camping for RVs or tents and even day parking,” said Cummings.
Travis Johnson, Malheur County undersheriff, said “no one really knows” about visitor estimates but he expects as many as 10,000 or more people could descend on the local area.
At Farmers Supply Co-Op in Ontario, manager Jackie Tolman said she isn’t sure how many people will arrive for the big event but her firm decided a month ago to be prepared.
“We stocked up on our main items like water, energy drinks and store supplies such as toilet paper, garbage bags and Gatorade,” said Tolman.
The store also shipped in lots of water, Tolman said.
“And in our deli we decided to stock up on our hot case items, things like chicken strips, burritos and pizza sticks,” said Tolman.
John Breidenbach, director of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said his office remains busy fielding queries about the eclipse.
“We’ve had nine walk-ins today,” he said Monday. “At least nine out of 10 calls a day on it. Travelers are telling us they are having to stay in Boise and Boise is full,” Breidenbach said.
Breidenbach said he believes the local area could play host to 30,000 people.
“The majority of our time for the last month has been on the eclipse,” said Breidenbach.
The 61 rooms at the Best Western Inn and Suites in Ontario are booked for the eclipse, said front desk manager Marisela Bryson.
“We’ve been sold out, I’d say, for a year and a half,” said Bryson.
Still, being sold out this time of year isn’t unusual for the motel, Bryson said.
“It is because of where we are located. After us, going north, there isn’t much,” said Bryson.
What is unusual, Bryson said, was how far ahead of the eclipse the rooms were reserved.
Bryson said the majority of the hotel guests on hand for the eclipse will probably spend two nights.