Community leaders in Aroostook County began planning three years ago for how they will spend 3 minutes one afternoon this spring.

On April 8, the moon will cast a shadow on the earth, creating a total solar eclipse that will pass directly through western and northern Maine.

It’s a rare event, both for Maine and the country, that is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to the state – a remarkable influx of tourism for rural areas during a time that is usually the offseason. Hotel rooms have been booked for weeks and even months in places like Jackman, Millinocket, Houlton and Presque Isle. In some places, any rooms that are left range from $300 to $1,000 a night.

The eclipse occurs during a remarkably small window of time, though it varies by seconds from place to place, and the experience will depend largely on the weather.

But that hasn’t stopped some communities from leaning in to the opportunity. Houlton, in particular, is determined to take advantage of those 202 seconds in a bid to draw in tourists, aid the local economy and encourage visitors to come back, perhaps even full time.

“When we realized there was an eclipse coming through, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be a great way to attract people to come up and see what we have?’” said Jane Torres, director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce. “And from there, it took on a life of its own.”



Maine is one of 13 states where the April 8 total solar eclipse will be visible.

Since 1850, Maine has fallen in the direct path of totality only once. In 1963, the sky temporarily went dark throughout parts of Maine. That eclipse passed through Milo, Bangor, Deer Isle and Stonington, according to a Downeast Magazine story published that year.

This time around, the eclipse is traveling from southwest to northeast and will pass through a stretch of less-populated communities.

Along that path, residents and visitors will have the opportunity to watch the moon cross between the earth and sun. For a brief period, only the corona – the sun’s outermost atmosphere of radiating gas – will peek out from behind the moon. Experts say the corona is what makes a total solar eclipse a must-see event.

Shawn Laatsch, left, and Nikita Saini stand in an auditorium with a projector displaying an image of a total solar eclipse in the Versant Power Astronomy Center at the University of Maine. Patrick Wine photo

Shawn Laatsch, director of the University of Maine’s Versant Power Astronomy Center, fell in love with this phenomenon nearly 20 years ago when he witnessed a total solar eclipse for the first time.


“The sky gets dark, like twilight. It’s silvery. Shadows are weird. You’ll see some of the brighter stars and planets. It looks like there’s a hole in the sky. Birds and animals pay attention. The temperature drops a little bit. Winds typically die down,” Laatsch said. “It’s an amazing, total-body experience.”

Some solar eclipse chasers travel great distances to witness them. The corona can only be (safely) seen by the human eye in the path of totality, which in Maine will be a 127-mile-wide path stretching across the state, from its western to eastern borders. The path of totality stretches from Dover-Foxcroft up to Caribou, and from Jackman across to Houlton.

People who are not in the path of totality should either wear safety glasses or watch the eclipse in a livestream. Experts, astronomers and government officials are working hard to make sure people know how to look safely to avoid the risk of serious eye damage.

Laatsch will be in Jackman, which will have Maine’s longest period of totality at 3 minutes and 28 seconds, to observe the eclipse and collect data for NASA.

But the town of Jackman is planning to let the eclipse pass with little fanfare.

Houlton, however, is going all out.



Downtown Houlton in 2019. Houlton is planning a three-day festival in April to coincide with the total solar eclipse, which is expected to draw visitors to some rural communities. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Houlton began preparing for the eclipse in 2021. Resident Fred Grant – owner of the local radio station, movie theater and a pizza parlor – read up on his astronomy and formed an “eclipse committee,” made up of town officials and members of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce and Southern Aroostook Development Corp.

They’ve spent three years brainstorming how Houlton and nearby towns in Aroostook County could attract more people to visit and then perhaps consider moving to the area. And they’re betting nothing’s more attractive than selling Houlton as the premier destination to view the sun and moon temporarily become one.

Houlton is throwing a three-day festival the weekend leading up to the big day. It will feature a “Howl at the Moon” concert, a beer festival, a craft fair, sponsored tours at the local planetarium, astronomy lectures and a series of dances. A performing arts group called Big Nazo Lab will create space-themed performance art throughout the festival. The town has also secured a weather balloon that will capture pictures of the eclipse for visitors to see live, even if the day turns out to be cloudy.

Early on, Houlton’s organizers secured ownership for the web domain The site is now selling event posters, created by an astronomer turned “eclipse artist,” featuring moose antlers, potatoes and the Aroostook County Courthouse clocktower overlaid by a map of the eclipse and its path.

The town is going to unveil a large sculpture of eclipse glasses – paid for with an $11,000 grant – that has real eclipse lenses built into it in mid-March. And, of course, there will be branded eclipse glasses for sale for safe viewing when the moon isn’t in perfect position.


That’s not the whole plan. The committee, organizations and local businesses are adding more events and activities by the day.

Houlton’s Eclipse Committee has raised $180,000 and counting from sponsors and donors to put on this show, with nearly one-third spent on marketing, Torres said.

In nearby Presque Isle, the University of Maine will featuring one of six sculptures artist Henry Dean created for spots between Texas and Maine that fall in the path of totality. The Francis Malcolm Science Center in Easton is hosting educational programming and planetarium shows leading up to the eclipse. Millinocket is putting on a Marathon & Half in which competitors will run as far as they can while the eclipse is underway. Across the state, the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust will be exploring the universe. The town will be celebrating International Dark Skies Week leading up to April 8, and during the eclipse all businesses and residents will be encouraged to turn off their lights for the full experience.

It’s an exciting time that the communities want to celebrate. But Aroostook County – its tourism office, towns, chambers of commerce, organizations and businesses – hopes for something a little more lasting. Officials hope people will visit and enjoy their stays so much that they choose to come back. Maybe they’ll even like The County enough to move there.

“I love our community, and I think we have a lot to offer,” said Kimberly Smith, a Presque Isle town official and community development leader. “I’m always thrilled to be able to showcase it to other people, so it’s been exciting for me to know that we are going to have this event that people all over the world follow.”

Tourists who do visit rural parts of Maine typically don’t come in early April, when the snowmobile and skiing seasons are coming to an end, mud season usually is in full swing, and the fishing buffs, hikers, campers and snowbirds have yet to arrive.


The Maine Office of Tourism sees the upcoming astronomical event as serendipitous.

“Historically, there has been outward migration in places like Aroostook County because people don’t see the opportunities there,” director Steve Lyons said. “If we can get those people from away and people within the state to see the beauty and all the opportunities up there for visiting, then that will be that much more business for the region and support for the economy.”


Early indications suggest that the eclipse will be a major draw.

The Great American Eclipse, a research publication, projects that 7,000 to 27,000 people could travel to Maine for eclipse viewing. Laatsch, with the Versant Power Astronomy Center, has seen even higher estimates.

And that doesn’t include people who already live in Maine and may trek north in search of that sweet glimpse of the corona.


Estimates in The County are high. Some anticipate around 40,000 people coming to Houlton alone, in part because of the three days of events.

The Maine Office of Tourism, Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety plan to increase staffing and communication to make sure visitors are safe in their travels.

“When you get to some of the rural areas, there may be a challenge for visitors who are more used to having amenities around every corner that you get when you go to a more populated destination,” Lyons said.

Aroostook County Tourism has even helped designate star parks where eclipse watchers can find solid ground to park and stare at the shadowy sun. The hope is that with these parks, drivers won’t pull to the sides of roads, get stuck in the mud or get lost without cellphone service.

Hotels already are seeing high interest.

At Ivey’s Motor Lodge, one of Houlton’s three hotels, all but a few of the 51 rooms are booked for the weekend.


Louise Martin, the hotel manager, said guests will be arriving from California, Oregon and Washington.

At Katahdin’s Shadow Lodge, three of Andre Morin’s five cabins were booked six months to a year ago. The two that have yet to be booked are brand new, added specifically to prepare for the eclipse.

The Rangeley Inn & Tavern, which has been promoting its own slate of events and eclipse packages, is nearly fully booked, too. In an ordinary April, the Rangeley Inn sees few visitors. Last year on April 8, just 13 of the 42 rooms were filled.

Owner Travis Ferland said he’s been getting inquiries for three years. As of last week, he had 37 rooms booked for the entire weekend, and he expects to have to start turning people away before long. The stream of business is a welcome reprieve from the erratic weather that has kicked this winter off.

“It’s been a really slow start to the winter,” Ferland said. “Knowing that we have something like that coming up at the tail end of the season really helps to know that we’re going to offset what we didn’t make at the beginning of winter.”

Torres, with the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, has encouraged locals to use Airbnb to rent out their properties and spaces in their yards for visitors who come in RVs and campers.


Eclipse chasers are a fervent group.

“Once they see their first one, they get hooked. And not all of them are necessarily astronomy enthusiasts – they come from all walks of life. The first time they see one, it has such a profound impact,” Laatsch said. “It is so beautiful and spectacular that they want to chase them and they start figuring out when is the next one going to be? Can I get there? How do I get there?”

Renee Miller, who lives in Massachusetts, plans to chase that corona up to Maine. Miller has been dreaming about seeing total solar eclipses for nearly 20 years. After many tries, she finally took her children, grandchildren and some friends down to Tennessee to see her first in 2017. The next total solar eclipse to pass through the U.S. will be in 2044, according to NASA.

“It reminds me how amazing this whole life is – the universe, the sun, the moon, the Earth, me, you. And our eyes, to be able to see it all,” Miller said. “It reminds me here we are. It’s just phenomenal.”

She’s not far from Maine, which makes the trip easier. She suspects Maine will be less crowded than other prime viewing spots in Texas. And the eclipse gives her a great reason to explore more of Maine. She’s also hopeful for a great view when the shadow of the eclipse passes over Maine’s mountain ranges. Her dream is to watch the eclipse cross over Mount Katahdin.

But Miller hasn’t booked a hotel room or Airbnb just yet because she’s knows it’s a gamble to trust Maine weather.



Maine will be the last place to see the eclipse in the continental United States. Viewers can head to Presque Isle to witness the final moments of the Great American Eclipse (as some are calling it) before it crosses a small sliver of Canada and then peters out.

But April historically is rainy season in Maine. Any cloudy weather would block direct sight of the corona and could nix elaborate travel plans. Last-minute eclipse chasers could be discouraged by any forecast of clouds in the week leading up to April 8, even if skies are blue and clear on the big day, Laatsch said. At this point – which, granted, is very, very far in advance – Maine only has a 40% chance of clear skies.

“If they’re a serious diehard eclipse chaser, they’re going to try to get to where the weather is best and where there’s the longest totality,” Laatsch said, adding that Texas and Mexico will be the biggest draws. “But all you can do is get to the best place where the best viewing is. You try to go someplace fun, and the eclipse has to be the icing on the cake.”

Maine certainly should be icing enough.

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