Western NC readies for historic eclipse

Areas in path of totality expecting huge crowds

Stars twinkle over one of the 26-meter radio telescopes at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in the Pisgah Forest about 30 miles southwest of Asheville. The path of totality will cross over PARI at 2:36:44 p.m. EDT and last for 1 minute, 47 seconds. Photo Provided by PARI.

ASHEVILLE — On Aug. 21, a sliver of North Carolina from south of the Great Smoky Mountains to west of Brevard will be draped in total darkness in the biggest cosmic event this century. And as the skies go dark above the western part of the state, communities and businesses in and near the solar eclipse’s path of totality are being illuminated.

Bryson City, which will see a full eclipse for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, has been advertising for months. A visit to their tourism website, GreatSmokies.com, leads you to an eclipse section filled with what might be every business owner in town wearing a custom blackout T-shirt.

Derailed Bar at Anthony’s Restaurant has been serving patrons a specialty “Cosmicpolitans” all summer, and High Test Deli has homemade “Galaxy 500” frozen sandwiches to keep visitors cool before the sun is hidden.

With three stores all located within the path of totality, Heavenly Fudge Depot and Chocolate Lounge has been baking up tasty Black Moon Rising Turtles and Orange Eclipse Meltaways for weeks.

And as the long weekend of astronomical activities and festivals begins, shop owners Paula and Jeff Fuller are bracing for impact.

“We have seen tremendous interest and response, and expect big crowds beginning Friday evening,” said Paula Fuller, owner of the Cherokee and Bryson City storefronts. “We have done a lot of advance planning and made a lot of extra product — we’re just hoping we don’t run out!”

Asheville Brewing Company launched a spin on one of their most popular beers, “Perfect Day,” turning the tasty Pale Ale black and branding it “Perfect Night.”

“Today has been crazy. People were here before we opened,” said Pete Langheinrich, owner of the downtown beer and pizza hotspot, moments after they launched the specialty dark brew a week in advance of the big day. “There is a huge surge for us over the eclipse.”

The brewery teamed up with the Museum of Science to give away a pair of eclipse glasses to the first 100 customers who purchased a pint — they ran out of glasses within minutes of 5 p.m.

The certified eclipse glasses have become a hot commodity. Many vendors have been sold out for days, reserving some quantities for day-of distribution.

Headwaters Outfitters in Brevard sold 500 glasses on Monday alone, with proceeds going to the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute.

The PARI observatory campus, equipped with 26-meter radio telescopes, sold out a $250-per-ticket event months ago, along with other area overnight lodging and special events.

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the road to Clingmans Dome will be closed both Sunday and Monday after the park’s viewing party at Clingmans sold out just in five minutes.

But Bryson, Asheville and many other North Carolina towns in the diagonal path that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina are still ready to open their doors to visitors and celebrate this once in a lifetime event.

With a little advance planning and an early head start, anyone in the N.C. can make their way into the path of totality come Monday — preserving memories for years to come.

Asheville: Asheville’s Solar Eclipse Festival at Pack Square will party as 99 percent of the sun is covered in city center. Hosted by the Museum of Science and UNC Asheville, the festival will run noon to 3 p.m. with music, food and solar eclipse glasses while supplies last.

Brevard: The path of totality draws a line over 26 national forests managed by the National Forest Service, and the vast wilderness that comprises North Carolina’s sprawling Nantahala National Forest is one of them. If you want to be in the middle of nature when wildlife reacts to the sudden darkness, this may be your spot. Anywhere that you can see an afternoon sun will work.

If you’re looking for more company, head to Oskar Blues Brewery from noon to 8 p.m. to raise a glass to the historic event.

Google Maps
A look at the communities in Western North Carolina that will experience a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 at 2:36pm EST. Courtesy of Google Maps.

Bryson City: The Fry Street Block Party will close off the street right next to the Railroad Depot with live music featuring blazing bluegrass from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and modern Appalachian during the peak hours of the eclipse.

Darnell Family Farms is hosting a Great Eclipse Tomato Party from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., opening their produce fields to visitors who would like to camp overnight or just pop in for a day filled with farm fresh foods, hay rides, inflatables and a petting zoo.

Cherokee: The Cherokee Cultural Celebration, beginning on Sunday at 2 p.m., will tap into ancient culture when natives once believed a giant frog that lived in the sky had swallowed the sun causing darkness to occur during the daytime.

This two-day party, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on eclipse day, will transport visitors back in time with Native American performances by the Warriors of AniKituhwa, storytelling and a traditional bonfire at the end of each day. Admission is $25 per day, which includes a pair of glasses. Children under 6 are free.

Franklin: From noon to 6 p.m., the town’s Solar Eclipse Block Party on Iotla and East Main streets will hand out free viewing glasses to the first 2,000 people to arrive. 

Mills River: Just outside of the path of totality, Sierra Nevada’s mega brewing campus will feature live outdoor music with sets “worthy of such an occasion” from noon to 4 p.m.

Sapphire: Gorges State Park will open early to host three days of astronomy-themed events beginning on Aug. 19. On eclipse day, the park will open at 5 a.m. and direct visitors to established viewing areas. Park officials suggest visitors settle into a designated location by 11 a.m. and plan to spend the entire day at the park. Music, food vendors and educational activities will be offered until 4 p.m.

Sylva: Bridge Park Solar Eclipse Fest, from Friday until Monday, will block off streets to provide space for viewing and a planetary walk of the solar system scaled to fit Main Street. Shuttles to the downtown viewing site will run from the Jackson County Justice Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for $1 per ride; parking is free. Bring a chair or blanket, but leave the alcohol behind.