- Rural communities in the path of eclipse totality are preparing for hordes of visitors
ateway is a small farming community about 11 miles north of Madras, boasting a population of 50 residents, plus or minus a few. It's where Marla Rae and her family have been farming for over six generations—so needless to say, Rae knows the community and the surrounding area well.
At the moment, much attention and hype has been given to the upcoming total solar eclipse throughout the region. Crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands are expected in and around Central Oregon, with all the attendant logistical challenges. Locals in Central Oregon have been warned to stock up and stay home. Much of the focus has been on the cities of Central Oregon expected to be impacted—Bend, Redmond, Prineville and at the top of the list, Madras.
- Marla Rae and cousin Bryce Vibbert
Meanwhile, small communities such as Gateway are also bracing for impact—and that impact could have wider implications than simply the annoyance of some extra visitors.
Being in the heart of river rafting country, people in Gateway and the surrounding area are no strangers to summer tourists. Under usual circumstances, Rae says it's a welcoming community—but the upcoming event is hitting them right in the middle of harvest, and at the height of a very volatile wildfire season. Rae says people there have been absolutely inundated with requests for camping sites, to the point where many in the community have adopted an "immediate family only" rule.
Thus, one of the biggest fears is trespassers running amok, and not respecting private property.
As Rae expressed jokingly, "Trespassers may find their cars loaded up with zucchini if they aren't careful."
Likewise, fire officials worry about car exhaust starting fires in the dry underbrush, should drivers stop randomly. Farmers and ranchers there and elsewhere worry about that too.L
ocals in Gateway have organized meetings to strategize how to deal with all the potential issues. One of those meetings hosted the County's Emergency Management Director, Marc Carman, who helped inform the community on resources and strategies. The Chief of the region's Rangeland Fire Protection Association also met with the volunteers of that Association multiple times, strategizing for the event. The emphasis of those meetings has consistently been about the need for all volunteers to be alert and available during the time of the eclipse. As Rae points out, they are neighbors helping neighbors. It's what they have always done and reflects the spirit of the community—taking care of each other.
So will the lead-up to the eclipse be much like the prep for the Y2K event—predicting the "end of the world," without actually realizing that reality? Farmers, ranchers and other locals in small communities such as this sure hope so.
Still, with crops and livelihoods hanging in the balance, it's become clear that especially in these smaller communities, there's no room for complacency or to let one's guard down. There can be hope for the best, but also preparation for the worst.
In Gateway, Rae's ultimate hope is that any and all visitors will respect private property and be particularly alert to the potential dangers during this hot and dry season. That means not trampling crops or driving onto private property—and definitely not smoking or otherwise starting fires.
Under ordinary circumstances, Gateway, like many of the small communities in the region, would ordinarily put out the welcome mat, and encourage visitor interaction with the community. Right now, however, they're just hoping to survive without any major catastrophe.