Map details outdoor recreation path of solar eclipse

Feb. 27, 2017: In less than six months, parts of East Tennessee will have some of the best viewing spots in the world for a total solar eclipse. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is giving people the chance to view it in a unique way.

Planning to watch the total solar eclipse? Don’t know when to start looking up at the sky or where to snag that prime parking lot or camping spot?

A new recreation map laying out the coveted viewing spots in the solar eclipse “zone of totality" is geared toward helping astronomical onlookers, eclipse chasers and just the average solar curiosity seekers find their way to Western North Carolina’s best outdoors locations that will go dark during the day.

Partners of Cherokee National Forest Interpretive Association has just published the “Southern Appalachian Lands Outdoor Recreation Map: Eclipse Edition.”

The paper map is $4.95 and sold exclusively through the Great Smoky Mountains Association stores in the Smokies and Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and on its website.

Related: UT professor: See total eclipse with your own eyes

John Innes, executive director of the nonprofit Cherokee partners group, is hoping the map will help feed the buzz and the needs for solar eclipse seekers.

“The solar eclipse is stirring up quite a lot of excitement,” Innes said. “The map is a way to see on paper the path the shadow of the moon will take as it crosses the North Carolina-Tennessee line. It is a map of all the public recreation land, all the national parks and national forests and state parks, all the scenic drives like the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Cherohala Skyway.”

Why would people want a paper map in the age of Snapchat and tablets?

In part because the solar eclipse of the century has decided to pass over some of the most rural and remote sections of the Western North Carolina mountains.

“When you’re in the mountains, the satellite system is not always reliable and your cell phone signal might drop. If you want to have the full experience, use your tablet and smart phone for weather apps. The paper map is a way to mark where you’d like to be, and it’s convenient,” Innes said.

The total solar eclipse is Aug. 21. It is a rare astronomical event in which the Earth, moon and sun line up so that the moon completely obscures the sun, revealing the sun’s atmosphere, or corona. The zone of totality refers to the 60-70-mile-wide path the eclipse will take as it plunges certain spots on Earth into complete darkness.

While partial solar eclipses – in which the moon only obscures part of the sun – are not rare events, this event will be the first total eclipse seen in the contiguous U.S. in 38 years, and the first total solar eclipse seen exclusively in the U.S. since 1776.

The solar eclipse will enter the United States at 10:19 a.m. PDT on the Pacific Coast in Oregon, where the totality phase will last for 1 minute, 58.5 seconds.

According to NASA’s total eclipse website, anyone in North America will be able to see at least a partial solar eclipse. But those in the zone of totality will get the full Monty.

The eclipse will take a fast southeasterly track across Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina, sail over Greenville, South Carolina, and exit the country at 2:48 p.m. EDT at Charleston, South Carolina, dissipating over the Atlantic Ocean.

The longest period when the moon completely blocks the sun from any given location along the path will be about 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

Some of the longest periods of duration will be over the mountains of WNC, said Steve Kemp, interpretive products and services director for the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

The original “Outdoor Recreation Map” showed hiking, fishing and camping sites from the mountains from Virginia to South Carolina.

“With this you don’t need 10 different maps. It includes points of interest like campgrounds and picnic areas and trails and roadways. It’s great to have in your car,” Kemp said.

Last year when interest in the eclipse starting kicking up, the GRSMA and the Partners of Cherokee decided to add an eclipse layer onto the recreation destinations, showing where the hot outdoor spots are closest to the center line of the eclipse.

“Now you can see all the trails – the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Benton MacKaye Trail. It’s really important when planning for eclipse day to have a detailed map. People might think, ‘I’ll see it fine if I’m 50 miles from the eclipse center line,’ but that’s really not enough. It’s like watching a football game being 50 miles from the stadium.”

Much of the zone of totality will occur “way out in the boonies,” Kemp said, outside major population areas like Asheville, but in places like Andrews and Murphy in Cherokee County, Robbinsville in Graham County, Bryson City in Swain County and Cullowhee in Jackson County. So people need to plan their route well in advance.

And their sleeping arrangements.

Many hotels and other lodging are close to selling out the Sunday and Monday of the eclipse in Brevard in Transylvania County.

The Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County is completely booked those days.

All hotels and campgrounds in Murphy and Andrews are full, including the Best Western, the Hampton Inn and “little mom and pop places,” said Meridith Jorgensen, executive director of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce. The county includes the Nantahala National Forest, miles of trout streams, waterfalls and endless forested hiking trails.

Jorgensen said Tri-County Community College in Murphy is holding classes on how people can set up their homes as vacation rentals for that weekend.

There will be eclipse viewing areas at Tri-County, Heritage Park in Andrews and Konehete Park in Murphy. Cherokee County has 36,000 year-round residents.

“We don’t know how many people will come here for the eclipse since we haven’t experienced anything like it, but we’ve been planning,” Jorgensen said. “I think people are really excited. Especially in Andrews. It’s in the centerline. It’s the optimum viewing spot since it gets the longest view of the eclipse.”

She reminds people that they must not look directly at the sun, and should wear special eclipse glasses (regular sunglasses are useless) for viewing the eclipse, to avoid serious eye damage or blindness.

Kemp said the scenic Cherohala Skyway that connects Robbinsville to Tellico Plains, Tennessee, as well as Clingmans Dome and Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, will be prime viewing but might be overrun with eclipse crowds, so the map can be consulted for other options.

Like a high elevation, grassy bald that lies within the eclipse zone.

“One of the neat things about the eclipse is being outdoors and seeing how all the nature and wildlife react, feel the temperature drop and if you’re on a high place with a long view of the horizon, you might be able to see the part of eclipse area that is not in total darkness.”

Purchase the Outdoor Recreation map at www.smokiesinformation.org/shop/eclipse-regional-map-3326.

Towns in West North Carolina in the zone of totality

City        Start of Total Solar Eclipse (local time)  Duration of Totality (min:sec)

Murphy                2:34:17 PM EDT 2:28

Robbinsville        2:34:20 PM EDT 2:35

Andrews              2:34:27 PM EDT 2:38

Hayesville            2:34:44 PM EDT 2:33

Bryson City         2:35:12 PM EDT 1:57

Franklin                2:35:26 PM EDT 2:30

Otto       2:35:32 PM EDT 2:37

Cherokee            2:35:40 PM EDT 1:24

Sylva      2:35:50 PM EDT 1:44

Cullowhee          2:35:57 PM EDT 1:54

Highlands            2:35:58 PM EDT 2:33

Sapphire              2:36:24 PM EDT 2:17

Brevard                2:37:22 PM EDT 1:03

Eclipse data courtesy of Fred Espenak, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, from www.eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov

This story originally appeared on the Asheville Citizen-Times’ website.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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