Cities in Texas are prepping for the eclipse. This small city is more prepared than most

Counties across Texas have issued disaster declarations ahead of the April 8 total solar eclipse. But for Ellis County, which already gets high tourism in April, this isn’t their first rodeo.

By Megan Cardona, KERA NewsApril 4, 2024 9:30 am, ,

From KERA News:

On a spring day in Texas, bluebonnets are everywhere in Ennis.

The iconic blue-and-white flowers bloom on the roadsides, they’re pictured on the city’s sign, imprinted on railings, and painted on shop windows.

But this year, the bluebonnet images are paired with painted alien figures wearing glasses and looking at a giant sun covered by the moon.

Each year the small North Texas city attracts about 100,000 visitors in April coming to see bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas.

This April will be a little different: In case you haven’t heard, there’s a total solar eclipse happening April 8, and Ennis will be one of the best places in North Texas to see it. There’s an expected totality of 4 minutes and 23 seconds over the city — bringing in double the number of visitors that typically travel to Ennis.

“It’s just kind of funny that both of these natural events that we really don’t have any control over are both happening in April and driving a ton of tourism, basically at the exact same time,” said Ashley Colunga, Ennis marketing and communications director.

Some counties across Texas, like Travis and Kaufman, have issued disaster declarations ahead of the eclipse. But for Ellis County, which already has a large influx of visitors in April, large crowds are nothing new.

Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

A bunch of bluebonnets flower in front of the sign Thursday, March 28, 2024, in downtown Ennis.

Plans for the eclipse started five years ago when the city noticed Ennis would be in the path of totality.

“At that point we were like, ‘oh, that’s so far away. We don’t even need to think about that yet’,” she said. “And then now, lo and behold, it is on top of us.”

From the beginning, Colunga said the city planned to host an official watch party event.

Planning an event for nine times the city’s population has taken months of preparation. Portable toilets were reserved six months in advance and the city is partnering with Dallas County to provide additional officers for security. The city will have Emergency fire and medical teams stationed in different parts of Ennis, so they’ll be able to respond in case of gridlock.

For context, there are only three major entryways into the city: Interstate-45, U.S. Route 287, and State Highway 34.

Laura Howard moved to Ennis for the small-town feeling five years ago and a small town is what she got. Situated 40 minutes south of Dallas, Ennis has a population of around 22,000 people.

Inside the Bluebonnet Spirit Shop downtown, Howard, a special education teacher at Ennis ISD, prepares informational pamphlets and specially branded “Eclipse Over Ennis” glasses.

“I’m kind of excited,” she said smiling. “I mean, they keep claiming that we’re going to have over 200,000, but we’ll see.”

Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

Downtown shops are getting ready for solar eclipse while the bluebonnet season is in full swing Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Ennis.

While the city’s watch party will be downtown, the city’s encouraging businesses and residents with land to host their own watch parties and use it as a fundraising opportunity.

Tesa Martinez, general manager at Holiday Inn Express in Ennis, said the eclipse was put on her radar two years ago when she got a call from someone interested in booking her entire hotel for the April 8 weekend.

“He said, ‘you have no idea what’s coming your way.’ Now I do, thank you so much,” she said. “And I shifted gears right then and there.”

Martinez did not book out the entire hotel to the caller back in 2022. In fact, the rooms weren’t available for booking until February.

As soon as they were available, Holiday Inn Express — one of six hotels in Ennis — was completely booked within minutes.

April crowds are nothing new to Martinez, who was born and raised in Ennis. She said she’s used to crowds coming in for the bluebonnets.

But with even more people coming in for the eclipse, she said some residents are concerned what impact the extra visitors will have on this year’s blooms.

“We are already, you know, worried about guest traffic, bluebonnets being trampled,” she said. “It is a fear that you have, like before they get seeded will they survive the eclipse?”

Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

Downtown shops are getting ready for solar eclipse as the town expects huge crowds for the event Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Ennis.

Outside of bluebonnets, residents are concerned about potential traffic.

Martinez said she booked a taco truck to park in the hotel parking lot for three days so guests can have easy access to food. She also has a cot in her office in case she can’t drive home and needs to stay the night.

Other Ennis residents are preparing for the eclipse like one would prepare for a major storm. Amanda Tyner, co-owner of a downtown boutique called The Collective, said some people have considered stocking up on groceries and filling up on gas ahead of the eclipse weekend.

“It’s like preparing for kind of our normal, everyday life to come to a screeching halt and then just see how it goes from there,” she said.

Typically, downtown Ennis businesses are closed on slower days. When Tyner first opened her boutique seven months ago, she let the customers tell her when they wanted to shop.

After studying their shopping patterns, she established hours in which her shop closed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

Bluebonnet season is in full swing Thursday, March 28, 2024, as Ennis expects huge crowds for the solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Born and raised in Ennis, Tyner said the highest foot traffic days for downtown occur in April during the bluebonnet season. During that month, shops like hers will stay open extra days.

During the eclipse weekend, Tyner’s shop will be open Friday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Tyner’s 7-year-old son will be off school April 8, as Ennis ISD and several other school districts across the state have canceled classes to mitigate heavy traffic and operational issues.

“Ennis’ streets on a normal Friday after work are busy,” she said. “So on a day when they’re saying we could have 500 times as many people, we have no idea what that looks like.”

The total solar eclipse will be over Ennis beginning at 12:22 p.m. and ending at 3:02 p.m.

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