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‘The great show in the sky’: Solar eclipse will once again drive Illinois tourism

‘The great show in the sky’: Solar eclipse will once again drive Illinois tourism

Previous eclipse in 2017 generated up to $18 million in visitor spending

By BETH HUNDSDORFER
Capitol News Illinois
news@capitolnewsillinois.com

The total solar eclipse on the afternoon of April 8 will be visible over 128 miles throughout southern and southeastern Illinois, a phenomenon that is expected to bring up to 200,000 visitors to the eclipse’s prime viewing path.

“We know this year’s solar eclipse will have an extremely positive impact for local communities throughout Southern Illinois and beyond,” said Carol Hoffman, executive director of Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau. “We are so excited for the opportunity to once again remind visitors and residents that southern Illinois is full of amazing outdoor experiences!”


Unlike 2017, where the path was 62 to 71 miles wide, according to NASA, this eclipse will be from 108 to 122 miles wide.

During the previous solar eclipse, an estimated 200,000 people came to southern Illinois, creating a spending impact between $15 and $18 million for the state.



Besides the tourism dollars, businesses are also trying to cash in by offering eclipse-branded products and holding eclipse-themed events. Big Muddy Brewing in Murphysboro planned weekend events beginning on Friday with representatives of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. On Sunday, the brewery will also host a Pink Floyd cover band to play “Dark Side of the Moon.” On Monday, Chuck Stuhrenberg, owner and operator of Big Muddy Brewing, said he will let the heavens provide the entertainment.

“We will cede to the great show in the sky,” he said.

The size of the crowd depends on the weather, not only in southern Illinois, but along the path of totality.

“In 2017 during the eclipse, we had our absolute busiest day ever,” Stuhrenberg said. “If it’s cloudy in Texas, we can expect lots of travelers to head here and we will have an even busier day than we had in 2017.”

In addition to events, Big Muddy Brewing not only created a beer called Dark Noon, but they also collaborated with four other breweries in the path of totality. The collaboration yielded Sasquatch Black Lager with Molly’s Pint, Totality Hazelnut Stout with St. Nicholas Brewing in DuQuoin and Murphysboro, Midnight Veil with Minglewood Brewery in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Dark Sour with Scratch Brewery in Ava.

Though they aren’t in the path of totality, St. Louis-based brewery Schlafly has a 12-pack specially created for the solar eclipse called Throwing Shade. The box includes new recipes Galaxy Wheat, Eclipse IPA, Shadow Bands and Totality Black lager.

“When we have an event of this magnitude, we like to commemorate it,” said John Elafros, event manager at Schlafly. “We encourage people to grab some of our beers and head down to watch it. That’s what I am going to do. “

Elafros will be camping at Rend Lake for the eclipse, he said.

And eclipse products aren’t just for adults.

National brands like Nabisco put out special Oreo Space Dunk cookies that includes popping candy. Sun Chips, by Frito Lay, is offering a solar eclipse flavor – a limited-edition pineapple, habanero and black bean spicy gouda chip available only on its website for four minutes and 27 seconds. 

Local businesses have also marketed for the April 8 eclipse. Excel Bottling in Breese, the creators of Ski, rebranded its black cherry soda and called it Darkest Hour to commemorate the 2017 eclipse. This year, Excel added glow-in-the dark labels on glass bottles and a track of totality map on the cartons, said Carla Baublitz, marketing manager at Excel.


An eclipse-related product display is pictured at Tru-Buy in Highland. On Tuesday, Tru-Buy Manager Rob Luitjohan said he's sold 40 to 50 cases of Excel Bottling’s Darkest Hour soda so far. Luitjohan said the eclipse packaging created a novel way to display, but he won’t be going to see the eclipse. “I’m working,” he said. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Beth Hundsdorfer)


Hoffman, of Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau, said 2017 was an unprecedented, unforgettable experience that has not yet been matched in southern Illinois. Carbondale drew 50,000 people to town over three days, resulting in $7 million in visitor spending there.

This year, the region is expecting even more visitors. Southern Illinois University Carbondale has sold 11,000 tickets to its 15,000-seat football stadium.

Several other cities and towns in southern Illinois will be plunged into mid-afternoon darkness on Monday. Grand Tower, southwest of Carbondale in Jackson County, will be the first Illinois town to experience the total solar eclipse that is expected to last about 4 minutes.

Cairo, Olive Branch and Red Bud are also in the path of totality. The eclipse path travels northeast through Carbondale beginning at 1:58 p.m., then to Mount Vernon, Harrisburg and Fairfield, then to Olney and Robinson before breaching the Indiana border at about 2:06 p.m.

Olney Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Caiti Lambird said as of Tuesday, there were a limited number of hotel rooms available, but there were camping spots still open. Olney is hosting a street celebration with events scheduled over three days.

Other events include Alpacalipse in Makanda. Visitors can feed alpacas, picnic, and watch the eclipse. The “Total Eclipse of the Park” will be held at the Marion home of the minor league baseball team, the Thrillville Thrillbillies.

Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Joey Watson said planning for this eclipse began soon after that 2017 eclipse.

Watson encouraged drivers to park in designated parking areas, and to travel with a full tank of gas, a charged cell phone and water. He also warned motorists against taking pictures or wearing eclipse glasses while driving.

State officials encouraged eclipse tourists to come early and stay late to enjoy southern Illinois, including the more than 30 state parks, some that offer camp sites operated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that are in the path of totality.

“We expect April 8 to be busy and exciting for all, but the collective goal for everyone here today is to ensure residents and visitors have a safe and successful viewing experience here in southern Illinois,” said IDNR Director Natalie Phelps Finnie at a news conference last month. “My hope is that visitors will plan to stay an extra day or to not only view the eclipse but explore all our beautiful state parks, historic sites, wineries, museums, restaurants, and other attractions.”

The U.S. will not see another total solar eclipse until 2044.

Information about other events can be found here:

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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Beth Hundsdorfer

Beth HundsdorferBeth Hundsdorfer

Beth has worked in journalism for 25 years starting out as an intern at KMOX radio. In 2023, Beth won her second Robert F. Kennedy journalism award with her reporting partner, Molly Parker, who joined the CNI team earlier this year for their reporting on abuse at the state-run Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna.

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