SUN-sational solar eclipse
The anticipated 30,000 visitors never materialized, but the few thousand visitors who chose Graham County as the place to view the Great American Eclipse 2017 weren’t disappointed.
“It was exhilarating. Just fantastic!,” enthused Dr. Jim Baker, who snapped 250 photos of the solar eclipse at Stecoah Valley Center. “You have a life before the eclipse and you have a life after the eclipse, and your life after is never the same.”
Clear skies contributed to optimum conditions for sun gazers who came from eastern and southern states to be in the path of totality – a 67-mile wide shadow path of the eclipse.
“This is so awesome!” 9-year-old Abby Wehr shouted as the period of totality expired at her parent’s business, Wehrloom Honey, where about 50 people parked to experience celestial phenomenon.
“We planned this trip about six months ago,” said Tom Bonitz, who drove 13 hours from New Jersey with his family to park at Wehrloom Honey. “I’m kind of a space nerd, and we wanted to be in the area of totality. When we saw it was passing right over Robbinsville, we decided this was the place to be.”
Four New York college students had the same idea.
“We came here hoping it wouldn’t be as crowded,” remarked Delphi University student James St. John. “We are camping on the lake at night, and this honey/mead place is incredible.”
“We picked the right place,” added Loyola University student Nick Palazzolo, who made the trip with St. John, John O’Grady and Jon Pustorino. “Everyone is so friendly.”
The out-of-staters learned what those familiar with Graham County have long known.
“The eclipse was a good excuse to come up and enjoy Graham County,” remarked Mark Gillespie of Clayton, North Carolina. “We come up whenever we can.”
“I knew about Graham County because I go fishing up here at Snowbird,” said Lincoln County resident Casey Noles.“But Wehrloom Honey is the biggest reason,” Casey’s wife Beth chimed in.
For many, the Cherohala Skyway was the place to be.
“There were over two miles of parked vehicles for the best advantage point to view it,” Graham County Transportation Director Juanita Colvard, who arranged for seven shuttles to take people to and from the skyway. About 75 riders took advantage of the free service. “Not many people rode the shuttles but the skyway was so congested and full of people to view the eclipse,” Colvard said.
There were several “best” vantage points. Lake Santeetlah was filled with boats, the Stecoah Gap overlook was packed with people, Stoney Hollow Farm was bustling, parties at Fontana Village and Tapoco Lodge were rollicking affairs and Stecoah Valley Center drew hundreds from afar.
“Wow is all I can say,” Stecoah Valley Center Director Beth Fields said. “We had about 400 people, beautiful weather, alive feed from NASA and Dr. Jim Baker set up his scopes with viewing on a television screen. The solar snakes, moon shadows, crickets chirping and the Mc Cracken’s chickens going to roost did not disappoint. We had folks sign in from Italy, Mexico, Spain, Canada, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Connecticut, California, Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of residents watched from their yards. “I thought the eclipse was phenomenal,” Colvard remarked.
It appears there wasn’t a bad viewing site in Graham County. That wasn’t the case across the country.
“I called my parents right afterwards,” Palazzolo said. “My mom saw absolutely nothing and my dad said it got a little darker. It was definitely worth the trip down here.”
Stecoah Valley Center had the distinction of being an official NASA viewing site. Representatives from NOAA were also on had.
“It turned out great,” Dr. Baker said. “It was pure joy! People were so excited. They were just elated. It was a really great day at Stecoah Center.”
According to Baker, at least 150 of the estimated 400 assembled snapped photos of the eclipse through a sun funnel he connected to a telescope.