By Stew Magnuson
|Photo: By Stew Magnuson|
To say that Monday, Aug. 21, 2017 will be the biggest day in the history of the Highway 83 town of Stapleton, Nebraska, may be an understatement.
That will be the day when it will be one of the Top 10 best spots in the nation to see the Great American Solar Eclipse.
Estimates of the numbers of folks who will flock to this town of 299 souls range anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000, but the truth is, no one really knows how many to expect.
Stapleton is what I consider my second hometown. My father and uncle were raised there and I spent many summers and holidays visiting my grandparents, who were lifelong residents. The VFW Post is named after my cousin, Staff Sgt. Edwin L. Magnuson, who died fighting in Italy in World War II.
Its previous claim to fame was being profiled as a typical small town” in the Jan. 2, 1971 New Yorker, in an article title “A Peaceable Town.” I devoted a chapter to Stapleton in my book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83; Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma.
Now the spotlight will be on this quiet village again.
Town leaders have known about the eclipse for years, and at first were promoting it with banners on light poles and thinking up fund-raising opportunities. A local expert and eclipse fanatic was brought in to brief them on the type of crowds to expect. They moved the annual county fair and rodeo to the Saturday and Sunday prior to the eclipse as visitors from around the world were expected to come in advance (See schedule below). There will be TV crews from as far away as Poland there to report the event live.
The fairgrounds and local golf course will be charging a small fee to those who want a good spot to watch. Excitement for the prospects of Stapleton’s “day in the sun” is turning into apprehension. The eclipse has so far garnered little attention in national media, but the hype machine will soon be ramping up as the day grows closer.
Stapleton has one gas station/convenience store and one small co-op grocery store and one restaurant — no motels.
As my cousin recently told me, every inch of the town is spoken for when it comes to accommodations. I for one will be pitching a tent in a cousin’s yard the evening before. On any other night, I could show up unannounced and have a place to stay. Not on Aug. 20 though!
Those who plan on traveling to Stapleton should come with a full tank of gas, food, water and sunscreen to last the day. Make sure you have IPO certified glasses to view the eclipse.
Travelers should plan on getting there in plenty of time. One can envision traffic jams on Highway 83. Those who don’t make it in time will probably just pull over to watch, which might exacerbate the problem.
I know the people of Stapleton have been working hard to for several years to accommodate the huge influx of visitors expected. But they can only do so much.
Visitors should come prepared. It would be great if they can spend a little money to help the town defray its costs — buy a t-shirt, a grilled hamburger, watch the eclipse from inside the fairgrounds, etc., but keep in mind that there are no Wal-Marts, Walgreens or 7-11s around. Those are 30 miles to the south in North Platte.
Respect private property and don’t trespass. Dispose of cigarette butts properly. It’s a dry country.
All that being said, it should be worth the trip and the advanced planning.
For many, this will serve as an introduction to traveling on beautiful Highway 83 in Nebraska and the alluring and stunning Sand Hills.
A total solar eclipse is said to be a near spiritual event and for most — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Experiencing it in the wide-open Sand Hills will be amazing.
Entertainment throughout the day: For young and old alike, games and activities for kids
2pm - Parade in downtown Stapleton
Food Vendors - On site throughout the day
6pm - Mutton Bustin' and Chicken Scramble for kids ages 3-15 at the Fairgrounds
7:30pm - Logan County Rodeo: $15/Adults, $5/Ages 6-11
8:00pm - 1:00am - Street dance and beer garden in downtown Stapleton, $10/person
Sunday August 20
9am - non-denomination church service at the fairgrounds
10am - 5pm - Craft fair and flea market
Noon - Working Ranch Rodeo at the Fairgrounds: $3/person
Food Vendors - On site throughout the day
Sundown (approximately 8:30) - Eclipse Presentation by Derryl Barr
Monday August 21
Eclipse viewing at the Logan County Fairgrounds! $10/person, ages 5 and under free. Includes viewing glasses, water bottle and entry into the "After the Eclipse" Bash.
Craft fair and flea market, food vendors on site throughout the day.
Join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 Facebook page HERE.
Stew Magnuson is the author of the Highway 83 Chronicles, a series of three books about history and life found along U.S. Route 83. The final book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83 in Texas was released in March 2017 and follows The Last American Highway: The Dakotas, and The Last American Highway: Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma, edition.
All three are available ONLINE or in bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83.For signed copies or retail opportunities contact him HERE