Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

With just a little over a month until the Solar Eclipse, Macon and Jackson counties are finalizing plans to host the more than 40,000 people officials say are expected to flock to Western North Carolina for the once in a lifetime experience.

On Monday, Aug. 21, WNC will be one of the prime locations to view the solar eclipse, a rare astronomical event in which the Earth, moon and sun line up so that the moon completely obscures the sun, revealing the sun’s atmosphere, or corona, and plunging places along its path into complete darkness. Just over a dozen towns in the entire state fall in the path of totality for the eclipse, with Franklin being one of the select few.

The eclipse will only be seen in the United States, starting on the Pacific Oregon coast, darkening a southeastern path to the Atlantic Ocean through South Carolina. This will be the first total eclipse seen exclusively in the United States since before the nation’s founding in 1776.

Macon County is working to plan events throughout the weekend for the public. The total eclipse will begin at 2:34 p.m. in Franklin and last for two minutes and 36 seconds. During total darkness the temperature may drop 10 to 15 degrees, birds will stop singing, and stars will be visible in the daytime sky. After that, the process will be reversed as the partial eclipse slowly wanes and sun becomes brighter. By 4 p.m., Franklin will have returned to normal.

Franklin will be alive with activity the weekend before and the day of the eclipse on Aug. 21. The chamber of commerce will be hosting a viewing party during the eclipse with refreshments and will have specialty viewing glasses for purchase for $1.

The town of Franklin is inviting the public to experience the 2017 Solar Eclipse in “Totality” in downtown Franklin at the Eclipse Block Party.  The party will start on Aug. 21 at 1 p.m. and will go until 6 p.m. and will feature Solar Telescope Viewing, Post Eclipse Concert, giveaways, and free Moon Pies & RC Colas. The town of Franklin will be providing free viewing glasses to the first 1,000 people at the block party.

The 13th Annual Franklin Area Folk Festival, “A Celebration of Appalachian Heritage” will be held on Aug. 19, the Saturday before the Solar Eclipse, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at historic Cowee School Heritage Center.

Entegra Bank Corporate Center lies in the direct path of the total Solar Eclipse. To mark this extraordinary natural occurrence, the bank will host a Spectacular Solar Eclipse Viewing Event.  Festivities will begin at noon on Monday, Aug. 21, at the Entegra Bank Corporate Center and in the meadow below the Corporate Center. Entegra Bank will be providing free Solar Eclipse sunglasses, food and fun activities for the event.

The Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts will be hosting a viewing party with festivities beginning at 11 a.m. with a block party DJ on the front lawn while inside the theatre, watch a live video stream provided by NASA as some of their top scientists share commentary as the eclipse happens.  From 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., enjoy a free concert with Mountain Faith Band on the front lawn and more DJ fun from 1:30 to 2 p.m., all leading up to the climactic event at 2:35 p.m.

In Jackson County, all of the county’s towns — including Sylva, Dillsboro, Cullowhee and Cashiers — are in the direct path of what has been dubbed The Great American Solar Eclipse.

“For many, this will be the first and only total solar eclipse they will witness in their lifetime,” said Nick Breedlove, Jackson County Tourism Director. “Generally the average time between total solar eclipses in major cities across the U.S. is a few hundred years apart.”

The place with the longest totality is about 2 minutes 40 seconds, but some destinations throughout the country will only see 15 seconds of darkness. “We consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to experience almost two minutes of darkness,” said Breedlove.

In downtown Sylva, live music, food trucks and astronomy stations will overflow from Bridge Park. In Cashiers, an eclipse party will take over The Village Green with more live music, food vendors and locally-brewed beers. For a more laid-back viewing site, Monteith Park in Dillsboro is a family-friendly spot, with a playground for kids, food vendors and free shuttles running to shops and restaurants throughout the day.

Southwestern Community College in Sylva secured a $1.5 million NASA cooperative agreement, and a major focus in year two of the five-year agreement will be promoting safe and educational viewing of the solar eclipse.

“Our goal is for everyone in Jackson County to experience a safe viewing of the eclipse by way of solar viewing glasses while understanding the mechanics of the solar system that make such events possible,” said Matt Cass, Principle Investigator for the Smoky Mountains STEM Collaborative and science department chair at Southwestern Community College.

“This solar eclipse will bring a lot of new people to Jackson County who haven’t been here before, and hoteliers, local retailers, crafters and restaurants will benefit,” said Western Carolina University Economist and Director of Hospitality and Tourism Dr. Steve Morse. “We want people to take a day off work and stay here in Jackson County to experience the eclipse.”

If just day-of activities are not enough for those in Jackson County, here’s a sampler platter of Jackson County’s offerings throughout the weekend:

– Kick-off the eclipse festivities with live outdoor music on Friday night at Groovin’ on the Green in Cashiers’ Village Green park or Concerts on the Creek in downtown Sylva, complete with Moon Pies for sale.

– Continue the revelry in downtown Sylva on Saturday, with live music in the afternoon, followed by Moonlight Madness where shops will stay open late with special deals and offerings. Check out special eclipse brews from local breweries, eclipse specials on restaurant menus and space-themed movies at Sylva’s downtown movie restaurant.

– Race under the stars with the Moonlight Run, a two-mile fun run starting from the Recreation Park in Cullowhee at 9:30 p.m. Saturday evening.

– Dive into the science of the eclipse with a panel talk by astronomy experts at Southwestern Community College on Sunday evening.

– Browse handcrafted mountain wares at one of two arts and crafts shows happening Saturday, or go all in and make it a double-header. The Dillsboro Arts and Crafts Festival fills the quaint village streets with more than 50 exhibitors — from gourd artists and basket weavers to furniture makers and painters — plus special kids’ activities. The Sapphire Valley Arts and Crafts Festival, which continues into Sunday as well, features live music, food, and wide variety of artisans on the gorgeous grounds of Sapphire Valley Resort.

The eclipse falls during the height of the annual Cashiers Designer Showhouse, running from Aug. 12 to Aug. 27. Top interior decorators and designers work their magic on three new homes, transforming each room from a blank canvas into a showcase of home décor inspiration.