Washington police are used to dealing with large crowds, so the upcoming solar eclipse isn’t causing too much concern for the department.
Coming just weeks after the end of the Washington Town and Country Fair, the city of Washington is hosting an event at the fairgrounds Monday, Aug. 21, to view the eclipse.
Police Chief Ed Menefee said the police are preparing for the event, but aren’t expecting it to be much different than a day at the Fair.
“We’re working with the Chamber, the fire department, the ambulance district and putting together a plan for the event,” he said.
Many cities in Franklin County are expecting an influx of out-of-town visitors dropping in to check out the eclipse. Washington is in the path of totality and is expected to be able to view the eclipse for 2 minutes and 28 seconds.
Washington, however, is not the primary destination point in the county. Menefee said as many as 50,000 people are predicted to converge on St. Clair for the event. He said Washington is expecting around 5,000 at the city park.
“Initially we were expecting about 1,500,” he said. “But since school has been let out and we found out more buses would be coming, we’re expecting something like 5,000.”
Every year for the Fair, the city regularly gets hit with large crowds. Sometimes as many as 15,000 people attend one day at the Fair, so 5,000 is not something that would shock the police.
“For us, I’m not too worried,” he said. “We handle traffic at the Fair just fine.”
In fact, Menefee said the plan for the eclipse day is to treat it like a miniature, one-day version of the Fair. The city will have parking and traffic restrictions around the city park, just as it did earlier this month during the Fair.
The goal of the traffic restrictions is to allow for buses to easily unload people onto the fairgrounds.
“We have buses coming from a couple of schools and other places,” Menefee said. “I know Amtrak added an extra car, so there will be a bus picking people up in the downtown area.”
Menefee said the only real difference between the eclipse event and the Fair is this time people get to bring in coolers and food.
Also like at the Fair, police will be patrolling the eclipse event. Menefee said at least five officers, plus himself and Capt. Jim Armstrong are expected to be at the event. Other officers will be on standby in case they are needed.
“If the crowd gets bigger than expected, I can call more officers right away,” he said.
Menefee said one thing people should know before coming out to the park is camping is not allowed. He said the city has received several requests for camping, but it is not permitted in city parks.
The eclipse event at the fairgrounds will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eclipse viewing is 11:48 a.m. to 2:43 p.m.
At 11:48 a.m., the moon will begin crossing the sun and the countdown to totality begins.
At 12:50 p.m., the sun will be more than half covered.
At about 1:15 p.m., totality begins.
At about 1:18 p.m., totality will end.
At 2:43 p.m., the moon will finish eclipsing the sun.