One Month Later: Wind River Eclipse More Successful than Expected
The total solar eclipse of Aug. 21 exceeded the expectations of the Wind River Visitors Council, according to WRVC Marketing Director Paula McCormick.
What was expected? How do we know it was better than imagined?
Expectation: 10,000-20,000 people will flock to Wyoming’s Wind River Country/Fremont County leading up to the day of the eclipse.
Reality: Hotels and campgrounds reached near capacity the weekend of the eclipse across the county. Additional lodging—such as AirBnBs, new camping areas, and locals hosting family—was also used by thousands of travelers. Though more people may have attended the eclipse than expected, there were certainly no less than the WRVC estimate.
Example: The 1838 Mountain Man Rendezvous site in Riverton had 665 weekend campers with an additional 135 day-of visitors.
Expectation: People will be concentrated around the central path of totality on the day of the eclipse.
Reality: Towns like Pavillion, Dubois, Crowheart, Riverton and Shoshoni were hopping the morning and early afternoon of Monday, Aug. 21. Areas on the edge of totality, like Lander, saw their increased traffic—including that final outgoing traffic jam—in the days leading up to the eclipse and the afternoon after totality.
Examples: “Pavillion’s population doubled for the day. The energy was amazing,” said Becky Hatcher, Pavillion Town Clerk.
“We had over 2,000 visitors and the traffic was overwhelming,” said Margaret Appleby of Museum of the American West. “We had over 30 countries at our museum site on Saturday.”
Expectation: We should be able to spread the crowds out from Togwotee Pass to Moneta.
Reality: There was plenty of room to breathe for locals and travelers, alike. Public agencies and assorted camping providers dispersed tens of thousands of travelers across public and private land.
Example: “Wyoming Game and Fish Department personnel working in the Lander Region contacted over 10,000 individuals throughout the event,” reported Jason Hunter, WGFD regional wildlife supervisor. He reported that 3,000-4,000 went through the Whiskey Basin information station, 800-900 camped at Ocean Lake the evening prior to the eclipse and even more vehicles showed up the day of, and nearly 400 people passed through the WGFD information booth in Dubois.
Expectation: Wind River Country will be host to thousands of visitors, then the region will quiet down quickly.
Reality: A larger number of travelers than expected planned extended stays around the eclipse, particularly staying in Wyoming after Aug. 21.
Example: “Speaking with Rick Collignon at the Dubois KOA Campground, they were not only full the week before the eclipse, but after their visitors began leaving on Aug. 21, they were ‘refilled’ by post-eclipse travelers for another week by campers coming south from Jackson and the national parks,” reported McCormick.
Expectation: Providers who prepared well in advance of this opportunity and set fair prices will be able to maximize business.
Reality: The Wind River Visitors Council put a great deal of effort into promoting every event and service that was brought to our attention. The earlier a group prepared, the better they appear to have done in terms of traffic and sales.
Example: “In December, when I first decided to ‘go for it,’ I did extensive research on what other campgrounds in our area were charging for eclipse camping,” Paulette Moss of the Jim Moss Arena near Riverton, reflected. “At that time, I based our rates on them, but I tried to offer a little more, for a little less—simply because we are not a conventional campground. We ended up with about 145 reservations, from about 10 different countries and about 22 different states.”
Expectation: The Great American Eclipse presented the unrivaled possibility to reach new segments of travelers and increase Wind River Country’s brand awareness.
Reality: Many new travelers discovered this part of the world and fell in love with it. A high percentage asserted they will return, and the experienced travelers among them are expected to encourage other travelers to discover Wind River Country. Countless others read and viewed national media coverage of the Wind River Eclipse.
Example: “We picked Dubois for the eclipse because it seemed a little out of the way. What a great choice that turned out to be,” raved one traveler. “From our first day to our last, we were treated like old friends. A beautiful little town filled with wonderful people. Great fishing, beautiful sights, a rodeo, square dancing, a pancake breakfast. We had a blast. We’ll be back, maybe for good!!”
Expectation: The influx of travelers to Wyoming’s Wind River Country for this event will bring additional revenues to Fremont County in the form of sales and lodging tax collections in addition to all the above-average purchases made that week and return visits in the future.
Reality: The actual results on sales and lodging tax collections and estimated number of travelers should be available in October. The Wind River Visitors Council is eager to review the findings of an eclipse economic impact study by the Wyoming Office of Tourism and share them with the public.
Example: We do know that Wyoming Department of Transportation traffic data indicates that there was a 148% increase above the 5-year average in vehicles entering Fremont County between Aug. 16 and Aug. 21. That means over 24,000 more vehicles than normal traveled into Fremont County during that time frame.