While every other city in Sumner County is hosting at least one large event to celebrate the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, Hendersonville officials are urging residents to stay home and view the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon in their own back yard.
"To keep our residents safe and eliminate additional traffic trouble, we decided to encourage people to stay home," said Mayor Jamie Clary. "The eclipse will be just as visible from their backyard as it would be at Memorial Park or Drakes Creek Park."
It's been 38 years since a total solar eclipse could be viewed from the mainland United States, and centuries since anyone in Middle Tennessee could view the event. The path of this eclipse will cross across the entire country with a small portion, including several cities in Middle Tennessee and Sumner County, set to experience a total eclipse - where the moon will cover the sun for more than two minutes. The partial phase of the eclipse is expected to begin just before noon in Hendersonville with totality expected at around 1:27 p.m.
Clary says he met last year with Sumner County Tourism Director Barry Young about their efforts to draw eclipse viewers to the area. He then sat down with local police and Tennessee Department of Safety officials.
"Very quickly they made it clear that safety and attacks were on their minds," he said. "The Department of Safety made it very clear during that meeting that they are concerned about any outdoor event being attractive to a person who could drive a vehicle into a crowd of people. Unfortunately, we saw in Charlottesville how that can happen.
"We could not get a good estimate of what the economic impact will be of the eclipse," Clary added. "Simply, we could not justify spending more resources."
Clary noted that the Hendersonville Area Chamber of Commerce has also encouraged members to stay close to home and host their own neighborhood events.
Local law enforcement and safety officials still plan to be busy, however.
Hendersonville police Commander Paul Harbsmeier said he went to area hotels six months ago to try to get a sense of how many additional people would be in the area.
"They were overbooked six months ago," he said. "So yes, we do anticipate a large influx of people coming into the area."
Harbsmeier said the main concern is traffic congestion compromising the ability of emergency services to respond if needed. He added heavier traffic is expected the night of Aug. 20 and immediately before and after the eclipse on Aug. 21.
"The more people who can enjoy it where they are, the better," he said, adding motorists pulling over while driving to view the eclipse is a concern. He also urged that residents get the proper eye wear to view the event.
Both police and fire will have extra personnel on the road ways as well as boats on Old Hickory Lake, Harbsmeier added.
The following is a list of local "neighborhood" events:
Ward 2 Aldermen Pat Campbell and Scott Sprouse are inviting their neighbors and friends to join them to watch this once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. Residents who live anywhere in the city are invited. Residents are asked to RSVP by going to www.tinyurl.com/patandscott to assure every attendee gets a hotdog and free viewing glasses. The event is from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the big shelter near the dog park in Hendersonville's Memorial Park. Attendees are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item for the VFW Post 9851 food pantry.
The Hendersonville Senior Citizens Center, along with Brookdale Senior Living Solutions will be hosting an eclipse viewing party for senior citizens in Hendersonville, complete with food, music and fun. The event is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is free and is open to all seniors 50 and above (and their families), who must RSVP to the Senior Center at 615-822- 8758. The Hendersonville Senior Center is located at 197 Imperial Boulevard.
The Great American Eclipse Celebration at First Baptist Church Hendersonville will be Aug. 21 from noon to 3 p.m. at the covered entrance in front of the chapel. Free hotdogs, chips, ice cream and free eclipse glasses (enough for 300 people) Bring your friends, neighbors and lawn chairs.
Historic Rock Castle is hosting a free event with the band the Broomestix beginning at 11 a.m. Residents are encouraged to bring their own food, drinks, lawn chairs and eclipse viewing glasses and join in the fun.