In June of 2016, the staff at Long Creek School began planning for a once in a lifetime total solar eclipse event, slated to occur on Aug. 21, 2017. We knew that we were within the path of totality and realized that many people from around the world would be interested in witnessing this amazing phenomenon. The research we did told us that early estimates were to expect as many as 50,000 people coming to Grant County. Having a few of those visitors stop by Long Creek would be great!
Long Creek is located in a large open valley in the high desert of the southern Blue Mountains on Highway 395. Our school grounds and facilities would be a perfect set up for an eclipse event. Eastern Oregon night skies are typically very clear in August with minimal ambient light. We contacted the school OSBA attorney about the feasibility and legalities for hosting a large number of people as campers on school property.
After jumping through several hoops with the school board and getting approval for liability, the attorney gave us a green light for continuing planning.
We had three main objectives. 1) Education opportunity; 2) Provide a safe, comfortable, welcoming place for our visiting guests to view the total solar eclipse; 3) Earn enough money to remodel and upgrade the school cafeteria kitchen and the school office to make both spaces safer and more user-friendly.
Eric Sines, a photographer, 4-H Photography Club leader, and web programmer, set up a website with PayPal capabilities just for the eclipse. We mapped out the soccer field, football field and playground into large camping spaces. 4-H Photo Club members took photos on location for the webpage. Our site, named easternoregoneclipse.com, opened for reservations in January of 2017.
As time passed, it became obvious that we were turning our Long Creek School campus into one giant classroom—we are, after all, educators! We wanted our students and citizens, as well as visiting guests to be scientifically educated about eclipses while having a relaxing and enjoyable experience. The majority of people who paid for camping spaces were families and serious eclipse enthusiasts. They saw spending their eclipse dollars on helping our school as a bonus.
We contacted Dr. Michael Cummings, the small rural schools science education enrichment professor at Portland State University, to see about the possibility of teaching teachers about an eclipse. A ‘teach the teachers’ day was set up for early May of 2017. Portland State professors Dr. Cummings, Dr. Maxwell Rudolph, and Dr. Rick Hugo — along with about 20 teachers from small eastern Oregon schools — came to Long Creek for a day of eclipse learning. We also held an evening community session with the visiting experts. While the professors were here in Long Creek, they said, “this valley would be a phenomenal location to view an eclipse; maybe we should come back in August!”
That sparked another idea…experts should be here at Long Creek School for the actual eclipse! We again contacted Dr. Cummings at PSU requesting eclipse experts. He agreed that it was a good idea, so Portland State University's Maxwell Rudolph, Ph.D, came to our school for the eclipse weekend to teach classes.
We were also able to have Vincent Papol from the National Weather Service and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Tony Papol Astro a physics major from Brown University, the Wenatchee Star-gazing Club, and the Mission Western Eclipse French Astronomy Club here to join us for the eclipse weekend event. These experts helped with eclipse education, weather briefings, traffic reports, and identifying and viewing celestial bodies in the night sky.
We had several main groups of personnel and leaders who made this event possible.
- Eclipse Project Manager—Patch Freeman, teacher, LCEA secretary/treasurer
- Technology Crew—web page, PayPal, advertising—Eric Sines, school web programmer; Patti Hudson, school board member
- Office Crew—finance, banking, logistics, communications—Jennifer Garinger and Jennie Freeman, Long Creek ACE members
- Kitchen Crew—food and refreshments—Mike Gibson, kitchen chief and school board member; Marsie Watson, school board chair and retired educator; Naomi Jones, instructional aide
- Education & Information Station—eclipse, weather and star classes, camper support, first aid, souvenirs, cooling station, family games and activities, hospitality, information, charging stations—Denise Porter, teacher and LCEA president; Linda Hunt, ACE member, Linda Studtmann, teaching assistant
- Maintenance—grounds and facilities—Fred Drake, custodian, ACE member
- Greeting Crew—welcoming, camping check-in and set-up, travel support—Liz Freeman, mom; Joe Wallace, retired teacher and past LCEA president; Julie Mennenga, teacher, LCEA member
- Equipment Support and Stats—Dave Connor, teacher, LCEA member
- National Guard duty helping with other eclipse locations in eastern Oregon—Karl Coghill, teacher, LCEA member
The Long Creek eclipse event encompassed much more than merely watching two minutes of eclipse totality. The event was a five-day celebration of people from many diverse cultures, countries and walks of life coming together to learn about, enjoy watching, and document what was for many, a once in a lifetime natural phenomenon. IT WAS COOL!