Nothing quite like it has ever happened, at least not in these modern times of mass and social media. Other than China’s annual Lunar New Year celebration, there is almost nothing to compare it to. Sociologists, planners, and astrophysicists alike are scratching their heads and speculating on just how many people will jump in their vehicles and head down the road to witness the “Great American” total solar eclipse on the afternoon of August 21, 2017.
Some are even predicting the largest mass human migration in history.
Many are pointing out that 200 million people live within a day’s drive of the eclipse’s 68-mile-wide “path of totality,” while only 12 million Americans live within the path. Not to mention all of those who will travel from other countries for this very special event. Eclipse blogger and GIS guru Michael Zeiler says, “Imagine 20 Woodstock festivals occurring simultaneously across our nation.”
A little better than half of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is within the eclipse path, and August is already a busy month here with some 40,000 visitors per day. What if that number doubles, or quadruples?
Of course, the onslaught of humanity won’t be confined to the park’s roads and trails. The greatest impact will be on major roadways leading from the north and south (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburg, Lexington, Knoxville, Atlanta, Birmingham) to the eclipse path. Conservative estimates predict some 1 million people will head to Tennessee for the big day.
Travel within GSMNP on eclipse day (or even during the three-day “eclipse weekend”) will be heavy at best, likely rivalling the epic traffic backups that occur during the peak of fall colours. Clingmans Dome Road will be accessible only to those who have already secured tickets to the special event up there. Newfound Gap Road may need to be closed if traffic gridlocks there, and ditto for Cades Cove Loop and Laurel Creek roads.
On a personal note (despite all of the above) from one of the lucky folks who enjoyed the last U.S. total solar eclipse in the Northwest in 1979, I really hope you'll seize this once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Witnessing a total solar eclipse is a profound experience, one you should experience in a place that is special to you. For those who are flexible and plan ahead, experiencing the event surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains will be monumental.
To succeed at eclipse viewing (unless you are lucky enough to live in the zone) you will need to: