Town beach eclipse influx worries selectboard

The Charlotte Selectboard is concerned about a large influx of people showing up to the town beach to view the solar eclipse, but isn’t sure if there’s anything they can do about it.

At the board’s meeting on March 25, a discussion ran much longer than planned about what should, or even could, be done if large numbers show up to the town beach on April 8, which will not be officially open for the season yet.

Board member Lewis Mudge said that, at the risk of sounding cantankerous, he thought the town should charge for parking and look for ways of limiting the numbers of people that show up there for eclipse viewing.

Robert Stein, who has a place at Thompson’s Point, joined the meeting via Zoom to say that this will be his sixth solar eclipse and predicted that it would not be an unruly group of people. He urged the selectboard to embrace the event.

“It’s a magical event. I hope you all will enjoy it,” Stein said. “If you haven’t seen a total eclipse, it’s not like a partial eclipse.”

The board discussed the viability of closing the parking lot there and how that could be accomplished, contemplating whether putting up chains, parking trucks or placing boulders at the entrances would be better to block access.

Brandon Tieso of the recreation commission said a problem with chains is that people have used bolt cutters to cut them in the past.

Road commissioner Junior Lewis said putting boulders at the entrances would require bringing an excavator to the town beach to move them into place and later to remove them. If the town did decide to block off the parking lot, he thinks there will still be people parking on the side of the road.

Another big issue was people littering, and it was ultimately decided that shutting down the parking lot won’t solve this problem if it occurs.

It seemed that basically a consensus was reached that a total eclipse of the sun is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and it is hard to know what is going to happen. If the crowd is as large as some have predicted, the town won’t be able to do much about it in the way of police enforcement.

Town administrator Nate Bareham said he had talked with the Chittenden County Sheriff’s Office and they don’t have “the bandwidth” to cover Charlotte during the eclipse.

Shelburne has scheduled a number of activities around the eclipse and will probably not be able to spare an officer. It appears that even the Charlotte town constable will be occupied with his duties there as a member of the Shelburne Police Department.

Recreation director Nicole Conley said she didn’t think the problem is things that might happen before or during the eclipse. She was worried about the aftermath and things like bonfires and groups hanging around to party.

Conley wanted to know how the event should be managed and how restrictions should be enforced. She was particularly concerned about who was going to clean up if there was a mess left.

Another concern is that there will just be one porta-potty at the town beach.

Mudge said he was worried about people camping at the town beach.

Having been at other total eclipses, such as Casper, Wyoming, in 2017, Stein said, “I can tell you the biggest problem is that, two minutes after totality, the roads are clogged. People do not stay and party after it’s over.”

“This is not a concert. It’s not a sporting event. It’s a group of people witnessing celestial things,” he said.

Stein said he thought the concerns expressed were legitimate, but that the reality is: “This is going to happen. This is like the tide coming in.”

He predicted that, after the eclipse, the traffic will be so slow that cars won’t be able to leave faster than walking speed, but that it won’t be a crowd of party people, just a lot of people willing to walk a long way with telescopes for a good viewing spot.

Chair Jim Faulkner wound up the discussion by saying he thought they should just let the situation be and that they just needed “to live with it the way it is” because, if they did shut down the parking lot, people will still park on the side of the road.

“There’s no magic here,” Faulkner said, arguing for not making the situation complicated. “We just need to be aware that we may need to do some clean up after.”

The board members encouraged each other to show up early on Tuesday morning after to help with clean up. Stein even asked what time he should be there.

Board member Frank Tenney recommended leaving it up to Conley how she wants to handle the situation and whether she will charge for parking.

In a phone conversation after the meeting, Conley said she didn’t plan to charge for parking, but she does plan to put up signs reminding people of rules such as no camping nor fires being permitted there.

Although the selectboard did not make a motion about handling the eclipse situation at the town beach, it did vote unanimously to approve the library’s request to use the town green for a solar eclipse viewing party on April 8.

The library does not anticipate a lot of people coming to the town green for the eclipse.

“I really think a lot of people are going to Shelburne that day, because they have so much going on,” said Cheryl Sloan, youth services librarian.