As exciting as last week’s eclipse was around here, Maine will have its real time in the sun in about seven years, on April 8, 2024.

That’s when northern Maine will be among the best spots to view the United States’ next total solar eclipse, and if this week is any indication, it will bring thousands of tourists to the state — and during the typically slow mud season to boot.

It is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and while Maine communities don’t have to start preparing now, they shouldn’t wait long.

Communities along the 2017 eclipse’s “path of totality” – the 70-mile-wide swath in which the moon wholly obscures the sun – planned for years, and since the prior U.S. total eclipse was in 1979, they didn’t know quite what to expect. Maine won’t have that problem.

‘ECLIPSEVILLE’

The path of totality for this week’s eclipse swooped from Oregon to South Carolina, going through 14 states but missing most major cities. Instead, it was places like Perryville, Missouri (population: 8,500); Carbondale, Illinois (population: 26,000); Franklin, North Carolina (population: 4,000); and Glendo, Wyoming (population: 200) that became hotspots for visitors.

Carbondale, a struggling college town that is also in the path of the 2024 eclipse, is making the most of its good luck. In preparation for the two eclipses, it spent freely on beautification and other improvements, hoping one-time visitors will think enough of Carbondale to come back one day. On the day of eclipse, it filled up its football stadium at $25 a ticket, and attracted a total of 30,000 people – an expected economic boost of $8 million. Not a bad day.

Perryville attracted more than 10,000 people, while Franklin had what was called its largest event ever. Glendo, which prepared for three years for the not-quite-three-minute eclipse, drew as many as 90,000.

All across the eclipse’s path, towns closed streets and held festivals. Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a town of 31,000, declared itself “Eclipseville,” selling T-shirts and other merchandise with that name – local officials say they attracted around 100,000 people spending about $30 million in total. A tourism team in Missouri sold 22,000 pairs of viewing glasses.

The celebrations proved so popular that some residents got out of town, renting their homes out. People in Oregon report getting as much as $2,000 for one night.

There are other preparations as well. In Oregon, transportation officials were ready to deal with cars stopped on the side of the road during the eclipse, blocking traffic. State parks were ready for crowds, too, as was anyone near a large field. Emergency personnel were stretched thin, with every ambulance ready to go. Some schools canceled classes.

Towns and cities were not alone. The American Astronomical Society national eclipse task force — yes, that’s a thing — contacted government officials at all levels in the months leading up to Monday’s eclipse. One member even traveled the entire path of totality prior to the eclipse to meet with organizers of local events.

BE PREPARED

Maine officials would do well to reach out to the AAS, as well as to communities along the totality strip. Because of how the path falls in 2024, it will present some unique challenges, and opportunities.

The southernmost part of the path of totality begins just north of Farmington and Skowhegan before stretching over and up into Lincoln and on to Canada, putting some of Maine’s most depopulated areas among the best viewing spots.

Baxter State Park and the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument are in that range, as is most of the Allagash Waterway. Sugarloaf, too. How those remote and sensitive areas can handle a one-day influx of thousands of people is an open question that will require careful consideration.

But an opportunity exists not only to give those areas and others a boost at a slow time of year, but also to introduce them to new visitors, many of whom think “lobsters and lighthouses” when they think of Maine.

No doubt about it – last week’s events show the eclipse is truly a gift from above. Maine should be ready to make the most of it.