Traffic is seen traveling both ways on U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield on Friday. The traffic is expected to increase on the road to points north in Somerset County ahead of the April 8 solar eclipse. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

JACKMAN — The forthcoming solar eclipse has long been anticipated by many people as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But for public safety officials in Somerset County, the date of the eclipse’s arrival — Monday, April 8, 2024 — has long been marked on the calendar as a concern of epic proportions.

Bill Jarvis, Jackman’s emergency management director, has been thinking about the astronomical event since he saw a map of the eclipse path back in 2017, the last time a total solar eclipse could be seen in the United States.

“They showed it was coming right over Jackman, and I said, ‘Wow, that’s going to be cool,’” Jarvis said. “Four years ago, though, I started thinking about some public safety aspects.”

Bill Jarvis, Jackman’s emergency management director, stands beside a board with information on a public safety plan for the eclipse on April 8. Photo courtesy of Bill Jarvis

Jarvis, who is also the chief of the Jackman-Moose River Fire and Rescue Department, started formally planning for the eclipse in 2021. Those plans now include coordination among local, county, state and federal emergency management and law enforcement agencies, medical providers, the local school district, and anyone else who plays a role in keeping people safe.

Jackman will be a hotspot for eclipse viewers on April 8. The town, about 16 miles south of the Canadian border in northern Somerset County, boasts one of the longest eclipse durations within the so-called “path of totality” that crosses Maine.


In the town, beginning at 3:29 p.m., the moon will fully block out the sun for three minutes and 26 seconds, according to, a website dedicated to information about the eclipse. The website also contains information about how people should safely view the eclipse by using special glasses or other forms of eye protection.

The rare astronomical phenomenon is sure to draw a crowd to watch those three historic minutes, officials said.

After all, the next total eclipse visible in the continental United States won’t be until 2044, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The next visible eclipse in Maine will occur in 2079.


While it is clear a crowd of some size will be coming to Jackman to watch the eclipse, emergency management officials still are not sure just how many visitors to expect in the area.

“I hope we plan for 10,000 and get 1,000, as opposed to plan for 1,000 and get 10,000,” said Mike Smith, the former director of the Somerset County Emergency Management Agency who is staying on to help with eclipse public-safety planning. “The population of Jackman is about 1,000. So even if you brought 1,000 in, you’ve doubled the population for a day or two, which is going to have a huge impact.”


Both Smith and Jarvis said they have not seen any concrete numbers about how many visitors are expected to come to the Jackman area, but Jarvis expects it to exceed what is typically seen the weekend of the Fourth of July or a busy weekend of snowmobiling season.

Jarvis said he found an estimate from NASA that between 7,000 and 27,000 people will come to Maine, which he said seemed low.

NASA also said that 99,000 Maine residents live in the path of eclipse totality, which means the other approximately 1.3 million Maine residents may choose to travel to a different part of the state — adding to tourists coming from out of state and nearby Quebec.

Some other data paints a clearer picture: In surveys of area lodging establishments, officials found that almost every accommodation in the area has been booked for nearly a year.

Adding to that, many are expected to head to seasonal camps and homes, Jarvis said. Locals have reported that they have invited family and friends to stay with them, too.

Unlike some other parts of the state that have been planning larger-scale solar eclipse events to attract visitors, such as Houlton, in Aroostook County, the Jackman area only has smaller events planned, Jarvis said.


“We don’t need to draw people here,” Jarvis said. “The town’s already going to be full.”

While a cloudy day, not unheard of in early April, could deter some, the weather is another factor that may or may not factor in to how many people travel to the region.

“They’re going to come because they want to say that they were on the central line when this eclipse happens,” Smith predicted. “It’s going to go dark even if it’s a cloudy day.”


The general uncertainty about the exact number of visitors heading to Jackman and other parts of the county has led public safety officials to prepare for just about every aspect of having more people around.

It all comes down the “three Ts,” Jarvis said: toilets, trash and traffic.


The first two have mostly been resolved. The town of Jackman has reserved 30 portable toilets and trash receptacles will be placed strategically around the town.

Traffic, though, will likely be the biggest threat to public safety, officials said.

The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office and the Maine State Police are working on a coordinated plan for patrolling the U.S. Route 201 corridor, the main artery traveling north-south in Somerset County, officials said.

A logging truck is seen traveling on U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield on Friday. The traffic is expected to increase on the road to points north in Somerset County ahead of the April 8 solar eclipse. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Jarvis has also worked with several logging companies to try to reduce Route 201 traffic on the day of the eclipse. Several have already agreed to keep their trucks off the road on April 8, he said.

Smith said he has even warned police departments in towns closer to Interstate 95, such as Fairfield, to expect heavy traffic both before and after the eclipse.

Any time there are more cars on the road, that means there is a higher chance for accidents. But the eclipse, which may lead to animals acting strangely, may also lead to more out of the ordinary driving behavior, Smith said.


“If people weren’t at the destination the second the eclipse started, they just parked their cars,” Smith said about what he has heard about past eclipses in other states. “They stopped their cars right there, turned them off, and watched the eclipse. Which then blocked traffic for emergency responders and everybody else that needed to be moving during that time.”


Keeping roads clear is just one of several aspects of a comprehensive public safety plan for April 8.

“We’re planning so that we can keep everybody as safe as we can and to respond to any emergency as quick as we can,” Jarvis said.

The involved agencies plan to meet closer to the day of the eclipse to hammer out plans, Jarvis said. Many will also have representatives present at a command center that day.

Before then, several key decisions have already been made.


The county emergency operations center will be set up in Jackman. Some county dispatchers will also work from Jackman, instead of Skowhegan. Additional ambulances will be brought to the area. Mutual aid firefighters from other areas may assist local fire departments.

Schools in Jackman will be closed. Central Maine Power will have extra crews on hand. Railroad traffic will likely be limited. A shelter for first responders will be opened.

Even the Federal Aviation Administration has recently been invited to join the planning, since Jackman has a small airport. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is also increasing staffing that day.

Traffic is seen traveling both ways on U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield on Friday. The traffic is expected to increase on the road to points north in Somerset County ahead of the April 8 solar eclipse. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

And given that Somerset County is known for its outdoor recreation — snowmobiling, ATVing, hiking, paddling, fishing and hunting draw visitors year-round — the Maine Forest Service and Maine Warden Service will have increased presence, with boats and aircraft on hand.

“It’s an outdoor experience,” said Mark Latti, communications director for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, about viewing the eclipse. “A lot of what we’re doing is geared toward that.”

Some game wardens will be reassigned from the southern part of the state to cover higher traffic areas in northern and central Maine, Latti said. They will help direct people to where it is safe to go and make sure visitors are respecting private landowners.


The weather conditions will ultimately determine the agency’s response, Latti said. Early April could be the peak of mud season, meaning that people need to take extra caution on trails and dirt roads. Lakes and ponds may or may not still be frozen over, depending on if the weather turns colder before then, which means people who want to venture out onto the ice need to be aware of conditions.

“Come April 8, we’ll know,” Latti said.


Ultimately, officials hope that people enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime afternoon but are urging eclipse chasers to do their part to keep everyone safe.

Some simple decisions could go a long way for public safety. For those heading to Jackman, for example, Smith said it would be a good idea to fill up with gas before heading north of Skowhegan. North of Bingham, there are only a few places to fill up, which may not be able to keep up with demand.

Along with other agencies, the Maine Office of Tourism has shared a list of tips for travelers on its website.

Those include staying on paved roads, carrying an emergency kit, avoiding the use of a GPS in rural areas and doing research ahead of time.

“Any time that anybody goes anywhere, they should be prepared,” Jarvis said. “People should be prepared whether they come here or anywhere else.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.