Tribal Government & News

Grand Ronde Tribe preparing for total solar eclipse on Aug. 21

07.31.2017 Dean Rhodes Events, Spirit Mountain Casino, Public Safety

It may be the most anticipated 101 seconds in the modern history of the Grand Ronde area.

On Monday, Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will race across the United States, making landfall in Lincoln City and ending its path over North America in South Carolina.

Grand Ronde lies smack dab in the eclipse sweet spot – totality – a 60-mile-wide area in which the moon will completely block the morning sunlight.

According to NASA’s Eclipse app, Grand Ronde will experience 1 minute and 41 seconds of totality beginning at 10:16:50 a.m. A partial solar eclipse will start becoming visible over the area beginning at 9:05 a.m.

In preparation for the event, which will attract an estimated 1 million people to Oregon locations along the swath of totality, Spirit Mountain Casino and the Tribal government are preparing for an influx of people.

“If you need prescriptions, if you need groceries, it’s better to be prepared and not get caught off-guard,” General Manager David Fullerton said. “It could be very minimal impact, like a bad weekend traffic, or it could be something extremely more than that.

“From the government side, we are always going to recommend people prepare and do things in advance. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

Only essential Tribal employees will be working on Monday, Fullerton said, and the Health & Wellness Center will not be taking any appointments on that day.

One possible wrinkle that could dramatically affect the Grand Ronde area, Fullerton said, is if the Oregon coast is fogged in on eclipse morning, prompting an exodus of eclipse aficionados inland on Highway 18.

Oregon Department of Transportation officials have identified the stretch of Highway 18 between Lincoln City and Grand Ronde as a potential bottleneck during the eclipse.

“Potentially everyone from the coast could be moving this direction,” Fullerton said. “There is some concerns with that.”

Grand Ronde Tribal Police Department Lt. Tim Hernandez said the Tribal police have canceled all vacation for patrol officers and will have at least two officers on duty per shift Friday through Monday.

Friday, Aug. 18, also is the first day of another Grand Ronde event that attracts crowds – the annual Contest Powwow.

“We will also have a floating shift for a third officer depending on when they are needed,” Hernandez said. “We anticipate our biggest problem to be traffic congestion for this weekend.”

Since August is traditionally one of the driest months of the year and because of the crowds and fire danger threat, the Tribal Reservation will be closed beginning 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18, through Monday, Aug. 21. Big Buck campground also will be closed to campers starting Friday and re-opening the following Tuesday, fire season allowing.

Natural Resources Manager Michael Wilson said extra fire patrols also will be out, monitoring the area to identify any potential fire hazards.

Tribal Education Manager Leslie Riggs canceled a trip by Tribal youth to the Warm Springs Reservation to participate in a NASA-sponsored educational event regarding the eclipse based on concerns about traveling during the weekend.


Casino plans viewing party

Spirit Mountain Casino Marketing Director Shawna Ridgebear said the casino will open its eclipse viewing area at 7 a.m. Monday, Aug. 21, in the parking lot in front of PlayWorld.

There will be 500 free seats available to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis and 100 invitation-only spots available for VIPs.

“We do anticipate that filling up rather quickly,” Ridgebear said about the general public seating.

The casino will provide coffee and a food truck for people to purchase refreshments, free eclipse glasses and casino employees who have undergone “eclipse training” at Evergreen Space Museum in McMinnville will be available to answer questions about what to expect.

Ridgebear said Spirit Mountain Lodge still had a “handful” of rooms available in mid-July for Sunday, Aug. 20, the evening before totality and that the lodge was not gouging people like some hotels and motels have done in the path of totality.

Like any event, Ridgebear said crowd estimates are “the great unknown.” The casino may see an extra 100 guests or an extra 1,000, but it is erring on the side of a large turnout considering the timing – it’s a weekend, the Contest Powwow is occurring and Monday is the eclipse.

“We are stocking up just like everybody is with their own houses,” Ridgebear said. “Spirit Mountain is trying to stock up and make sure we have enough bottled water and enough food to take care of everybody.”

The casino also is preparing to set up its supply of emergency cots in the Event Center for its employees in case there are traffic congestion problems on Highway 18.

“It’s all hands on deck,” she said. “We are staffing like it’s New Year’s Eve, which is our largest night of the year.”

Ridgebear added that the casino will suspend its buses to and from Portland for that weekend to help ease traffic, as well as ensure all deliveries are done early.