A horse-drawn wagon carries passengers Sunday past the Solar Eclipse Festival along Main Street in Jackman. The festival, which continues Monday, is next to the Jackman Town Office at 369 Main St. Jackman is in the path of totality for the total solar eclipse expected Monday. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and sun, blocking the sun for a short time and preventing sunlight from reaching Earth. Totality is the moment or duration of total obscuration of the sun or moon during an eclipse. In astronomy, obscuration is the concealment of a celestial body by the passage of another between it and observers. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Those working to keep people safe before, during and after the total solar eclipse say they expect vehicle traffic to be most congested early Monday and remain heavy throughout the day.

Mike Smith, interim emergency management director for Somerset County, said he thinks traffic leaving southbound after the eclipse will be worse than traffic heading into the eclipse viewing areas.

Just how many vehicles will come and go, however, is anybody’s guess.

“We have an undetermined amount of people coming, and that’s the hard part,” Smith said Sunday.

Maine Department of Transportation graphic

All hotels and other lodging places in central Maine have been booked for months and even years for the eclipse, which is expected to occur in a clear sky with the possibility of some cirrus clouds. If the stories being passed around about people coming from out of state are any indication of how busy Monday could be, central Maine should see huge numbers.

Smith said eclipse enthusiasts in other parts of the United States are changing their plans and coming to Maine because other places are forecasting cloudy skies.

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Newton Field, the airport in Jackman, is accepting planes on a first-come first-served basis. Smith said people have been calling from New York and other areas asking if it is OK to fly in and pitch a tent behind their planes to sleep there. They are being told it is OK if they don’t mind shoveling the snow for that, according to Smith.

“These people have no idea what they’re getting into,” he said.

John Meader, an astronomer and educator, right, assists Helen Roy of China before Roy viewed Jupiter and its moons through Meader’s telescope during a star watching party at the Jackman Town Office in Jackman on Sunday night. About 50 people showed for the event and viewed stars and planets through binoculars, telescopes and camera, The group met on the eve of the total solar eclipse. Jackman is in the path of totality for the Monday total solar eclipse. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Others have called saying that because the eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime event, they want to view it from both the U.S. and Canada and plan to cross the border twice, he said.

Routes where traffic congestion is expected include U.S. Route 201, from Skowhegan to the Canadian border north of Jackman; Route 4 from Farmington to Rangeley; and Route 6 to the Greenville and Rockwood area.

Just after 11 a.m. Sunday, Smith was about to leave Skowhegan for Jackman, where he planned to stay until Tuesday. He said he expects traffic to be backed up in multiple areas, including one in particular: at the traffic lights on U.S. Route 201 in Skowhegan, just before vehicles enter the South Channel Bridge over the Kennebec River near South Side Tavern.

“I’d like to think it might break or move along better, north of Ware-Butler and right straight through,” Smith said.

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He said one of the biggest worries is that motorists will pull onto the side of roads, where it is muddy and soft under the snow, and get stuck.

There is only one or two wrecker trucks between Bingham and the Canadian border to the north, he said, and that tow truck belongs to Achey’s Autobody & Repair on Main Street in Jackman. He said the owner was talking about using a pickup truck to help pull vehicles out of ditches.

Sydney Haigis, left, Amber Varney, standing, and Brandi Eaton, all staff members at the Northland Living Center in Jackman, wait Sunday for customers to buy homemade baked goods at the center’s stand during the Solar Eclipse Festival in Jackman. The Northland Living Center is a facility that provides care for those with intellectual disabilities. The festival continues Monday. Jackman is in the path of totality for the total solar eclipse expected Monday. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and sun, blocking the sun for a short time and preventing sunlight from reaching Earth. Totality is the moment or duration of total obscuration of the sun or moon during an eclipse. In astronomy, obscuration is the concealment of a celestial body by the passage of another between it and observers. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

A message left at Achey’s Sunday afternoon was not immediately returned. A message left on an answering service for 201 Service in Skowhegan, which also provides towing and vehicle recovery services, also was not immediately returned.

But Charles Robbins, owner of Charlie & Son Sales & Service on Lakewood Road, also U.S. Route 201, in Madison, said he has spoken with sheriff’s and Maine Warden Service officials about the eclipse traffic and is ready to respond if needed. Robbins said he always has three trucks covering the 201 corridor anyway, and as long as they can get to vehicles, they will help. Snowmobile trails, however, can be very difficult this time of year.

“I don’t know what to expect tomorrow — there are supposed to be a lot of cars coming through,” Robbins said. “The sheriff’s department and game wardens know that we’re a phone call away.”

Wreckers from Skowhegan could respond to incidents, but the question is whether they can make it through the traffic, Smith said. Also, if they respond to eclipse-related issues but cannot get through, they may be losing business in their regular territories.

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“Who knows how busy they’ll be?” Smith said.

Many agencies are working together on traffic and health and safety concerns, including emergency management agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Maine State Police, Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, Maine Department of Transportation, area fire departments, hospitals, forestry officials, health centers, ambulance services, Central Maine Power Co. and more.

“It’s been a real cooperative effort up there,” Smith said of the Jackman area.

DIFFICULT TO PREDICT

Paul Merrill, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said Sunday that it is nearly impossible for officials to be able to predict eclipse traffic numbers with any great accuracy because of the unpredictable nature of the event.

About a week ago, they were discussing the possibility of between 10,000 and 40,000 out-of-state visitors, but that was a pretty wide range and may end up being low, given that clear skies are expected in northern New England Monday, Merrill said in an email.

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“I’ve been asked about other high-traffic times in Maine (holiday weekends and the 1997 Phish concert in Limestone), but I’m not sure we can make good apples-to-apples comparisons,” he said. “On summer weekends, we have large volumes of traffic, but travelers enter and exit the state through areas that are designed to handle large volumes of traffic. That won’t necessarily be the case in parts of western and northern Maine tomorrow.”

Cassy Quirion and her grandfather, Alain Quirion, visit with customers Sunday along Main Street in Jackman while selling syrup from Quwic Maple Syrup Farm Inc. in Jackman. They say they also plan to sell syrup Monday, when the total solar eclipse is expected. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and sun, blocking the sun for a short time and preventing sunlight from reaching Earth. Jackman is in the path of totality for the eclipse. Totality is the moment or duration of total obscuration of the sun or moon during an eclipse. In astronomy, obscuration is the concealment of a celestial body by the passage of another between it and observers. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The state DOT put together a document showing roads expected to see high traffic volume, as well as tips for travelers.  Merrill said just before 12:30 p.m. Sunday that he checked with DOT officials and all traffic appeared normal.

“Our engineers are monitoring traffic in real time,” Merrill said. “We are minimizing road construction and lane closures. Our crews that work in the path of totality will be standing down from normal maintenance activities and standing by to help with any traffic issues or emergencies.”

Meanwhile, Smith, Somerset County’s interim emergency management director, recommended people leave early Monday if they are planning to drive to viewing areas, and to pack snacks and water.

“Have a plan,” he said. “Don’t pull off any roads that don’t look like roads. Just kind of be aware of your surroundings. If you’re coming up, take a look around and know where you’re at and just be prepared.”

If people do run into trouble, they should call 911 and have as much information to relay to dispatchers as possible, he said.

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Skowhegan police Chief David Bucknam said Sunday afternoon that his department has been coordinating with emergency management officials and met with them several times prior to the weekend. Emergency management agencies have access to Skowhegan’s traffic cameras and are monitoring them from Jackman, where an incident command center is set up.

Bucknam said police were starting to see an increase in the number of vehicles heading north, but they expect the bulk of traffic to be early Monday morning and continue throughout the day.

“So far, we have not seen any impacts on the town of Skowhegan due to the increase,” he said. “The town has been well informed and we expect everything to be smooth. We are currently monitoring traffic via traffic cams and officers on the road.”

Like Bucknam, Mike Mitchell, chief deputy of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, said traffic Sunday appeared to be normal on roads leading to Jackman and other places. He said many lodging establishments required a four-night minimum stay, so a lot of visitors got into town Friday.

“People are going up and spending the whole weekend rather than just one night,” Mitchell said. “We anticipate a whole lot more traffic tomorrow.”

The skies were sunny in Jackman at 2 p.m. Sunday, where it was a little breezy and thus, cool, according to Bill Jarvis, chief of the Jackman-Moose River Fire & Rescue Department and emergency management director for the town.

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Jarvis, who has been working on an eclipse public safety plan for more than a year and wrote his first draft of the plan in February 2023, said vehicles have been coming into town sporadically, but most traffic is expected Monday.

“We’re out and around, driving, and we’re seeing license plates from a lot of different areas — Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Connecticut,” he said.

His advice to travelers?

“Come prepared and stay off the ice,” he said.

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