Houlton cleans up after eclipse event that ‘surpassed expectations’ 

2 months ago

HOULTON, Maine – Cleanup is underway in Houlton after an estimated 20,000 people visited to experience the total solar eclipse on Monday. 

Tuesday, the thrill of the event remained as planners shared stories and details about the three-day festival leading up to the spectacular celestial occurrence.

“It surpassed expectations. I wouldn’t be surprised if we got close to 40,000 [visitors],” said Nancy Ketch, director of community development. “All our planning paid off.”

The event, nearly three years in the making, went off mostly without a hitch as visitors from around the globe came to this small Aroostook County town, including many who changed travel plans at the last minute because of weather. 

“Everybody came together and it worked, it worked perfectly,” said Houlton Police Chief Tim DeLuca, who is also serving as the interim town manager

Events like this take a lot of preplanning, a lot of collaboration and this town got it together, he said.

The only real problem was a seven-mile traffic back-up along Route 1, heading south out of town after the event, according to the Maine State Police. 

HOULTON, Maine — April 9, 2024 — Maine State Police reported a seven mile traffic backup going south out of Houlton on Route 1 shortly after the total solar eclipse ended on April 8.   (Credit: Maine State Police )

For the past several months the eclipse team finalized details like parking, traffic patterns, shuttle bus routes, festivities and food for potentially 40,000 visitors. Just days before the actual event, planners were still tweaking critical pieces, not to mention clearing snow from a recent storm.

To ensure public safety, DeLuca called on law enforcement agencies from other parts of the state and in response police came from the York County Sheriff’s Dept., Westbrook Police Dept., City of Auburn Police Dept., Rumford Police Dept., Sabattus Police Dept., and Gouldsboro Police Dept. 

“I had several other agencies that offered assistance if we needed it,” DeLuca said, adding that there were no arrests or problems of any significance.

While some visitors arrived during the days before totality, the bulk of those who came to Houlton made the trip late Sunday or Monday morning. There were visitors from as far away as Japan, Hawaii, Alaska, Jordan, Venezuela,the Philippines, the UK, Australia, Scotland and 45 other states. 

Ketch talked to a woman late last week who has been traveling to eclipse sites for 40 years and this was her 13th total solar eclipse. Along with a group of 20 that included meteorologists, astrophotographers and a brain surgeon who flew in from the Philippines, the woman ended up in the large field next to Hannaford’s. 

“I had people coming up to me saying,‘ what a nice town, people are so welcoming.’ We heard that over and over and over again,” Ketch said. “It made it such a nice atmosphere.”

In the downtown there was an eclectic group of people, like a street fair atmosphere with dancing, tribal drumming and music, she said.

On Tuesday afternoon there were still some visitors downtown. But the cleanup was nearly complete with all the tents gone, the eclipse headquarters broken down and only the porta potty removal remaining. 

“The community really pulled together to make this happen and it was evident,” Ketch said. “A couple people came up and said, ‘you guys really know how to throw a party.’”