The city of Marble Falls set up an email and text list for anyone wanting eclipse updates from now through the event on April 8. Businesses and lodgers can use the QR codes to keep the VisitMarbleFalls.org website updated on events and vacancies. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman
The total solar eclipse drew its first crowds to Marble Falls more than two months before the April 8 event. Lakeside Pavilion filled up with residents and business owners on Feb. 8 for three presentations by city officials about plans for handling the expected large influx of tourists and the issues that could cause.
“The eclipse is on a Monday, so people will have a few days to make it here,” said Assistant City Manager Russell Sander. “It will be like Memorial Day, except on steroids.”
The city plans to launch a direct mail campaign with important information that residents will need to stay safe and handle any emergencies. A website has already been set up for businesses to promote their events. Lodgers are asked to keep the city informed on whether or not they have vacancies, which also will be available on the website.
To get that information to the city, businesses can use a QR code that was on display at the Feb. 8 meetings. A second QR code is for those who want emailed updates on eclipse-related news. That can be obtained by texting “eclipse2024” to 855-892-9902.
Sander offered some tips at the meeting for dealing with the expected crowds. Locals were warned to have their pantries stocked before the weekend leading up to April 8 because area grocers would most likely be packed with shoppers.
“A lot of these people will be camping, so they are going to be buying supplies,” he continued. “We have been in touch with H-E-B and Walmart, and they are activating their disaster relief teams. H-E-B is like a well-oiled machine when it comes to something like this. They are prepared.”
Local business owners need to decide if they will be open that day — schools will be closed — and make arrangements with employees for how to get to work and home.
Changes to street closures caused some consternation among Main Street businesses.
Cheryl Westerman, owner of Ms Lollipop Parties, Fun & Gifts, expressed concern that the city had not communicated with her or other downtown businesses that they were going to leave Main Street open to traffic on the day of the eclipse.
She reminded the panel members on stage that, at a meeting in July 2023, the city encouraged downtown businesses to get together and scheduled events. At the time, the city said Main Street would be closed to traffic. She met with about a dozen businesses that plan to be open, including those normally closed on Mondays. Several, such as Ms Lollipop’s, have hired entertainment for the day.
At the Feb. 8 meeting, officials said Main Street would remain open to traffic.
“You encouraged us, and now you have decided not to have a street closure on Main,” Westerman said. “We’re not sure how to proceed on that because no one has communicated with me about any changes, and we have moved forward with deposits and arranged memorable entertainment. We want to promote downtown Marble Falls.”
Sander commended her on the planned activities and said the city has not made a final decision yet on which streets will be closed. Earlier remarks during the presentation implied Main would be open to traffic.
“We have to make sure residents have the ability to transverse around U.S. 281,” he said. “All that is still in discussion. I totally understand that you need to know soon, so you know how to proceed.”
Another question came from a resident concerned that Waste Management announced plans to pick up trash as usual on that Monday.
“How are they going to do that?” he asked.
A representative from Waste Management, who was not on the stage with city officials, said if the trucks were not able to get to the trash on Monday, they would be back the next day.
Possible lane closures on the U.S. 281 bridge were another concern. Sander assured the audience that all lanes would be open and that the ample shoulders on both the northbound and southbound spans would be for emergency traffic. Officers will be stationed on the bridge to keep traffic moving and the shoulders clear.
Portable toilets will be set up along major roadways for people stuck in traffic. Also, Baylor Scott & White will not be scheduling elective surgeries during that time.
Marble Falls Police Chief Glenn Hansen said officers will respond to calls about trespassers “as long as we can.”
“Trespassing may be an issue with people throwing up tents wherever they see a space,” he continued. “People will also be pulling over to the side to get out and view the eclipse.”
MFPD will be operating with maximum staff Monday-Wednesday, April 8-10.
“We expect traffic to be cleared out by the end of the day Tuesday,” he said.
Mobile phone service was another addressed concern. Hanson said texting might be available when calling is not. Temporary cell towers are being set up to provide more capacity.
“Hopefully, it won’t turn out to be as bad as we are planning for,” he said.