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Missouri State Parks offer eclipse viewing events

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Riders will have the opportunity to experience the first total solar eclipse viewable in Missouri in nearly 150 years on a special Katy Trail bicycle ride.

Riders will have the opportunity to experience the first total solar eclipse viewable in Missouri in nearly 150 years on a special Katy Trail bicycle ride.

A 70-mile-wide circle of darkness will cross Missouri at mid-day next summer. With the proper planning, you can achieve what star gazers call the “totality” of this astronomical experience.

Missouri is one of 12 states in the direct path of a total eclipse of the sun that will occur on Aug. 21, 2017. The last total solar eclipse to cross the state was on Aug. 7, 1869, nearly 150 years ago.

The 1869 eclipse only clipped the northeast corner of the state. Next summer’s eclipse will begin in the northwest corner of Missouri at St. Joseph and sweep diagonally across the state to Ste. Genevieve.

Those near the center of the path will experience “totality,” in which the moon blots out the sun totally, turning day into night. The eclipse will last for over two and one half minutes in prime locations.

Eugene Vale, an interpretative resource specialist with Missouri State Parks, is passionate about astronomy.

“A total eclipse at all is special,” Vale said. “I’ve never seen one, so I hesitate in getting too extreme. But the scientists are really excited about seeing this one.

“It will occur about solar noon (1 p.m.), so the sun will be about at its absolute highest in the sky. No buildings or mountains or trees will get in the way. It will get dark. Temperatures will drop. The brightest stars will be visible.

“It will last about two and a half minutes, if you’re in the path of totality. Unless you are in that 70-mile circle, you will not see a total eclipse.

“When conditions are exactly right, the moon is the same or slightly larger than the sun. So when the moon gets directly in between the earth and the sun, it blocks out the solar disc.”

It will occur as a partial eclipse over the entire United States. Totality will spend about 90 minutes going across the country, from Oregon to South Carolina, and about 13 minutes over Missouri.

Vale said some celestial enthusiasts are planning to visit Missouri for this phenomenon.

The state park system has 42 locations where you can see the eclipse at parks and historic sites within the path of totality. Partial views of the eclipse can be seen at parks in other areas of the state.

Nineteen parks are within the path of totality, and available for camping. Reservations, which require a three-night stay, from Aug. 18 through Aug. 21, will be available starting six months in advance. They can be made by visiting mostateparks.com or calling 877-ICampMO (877-422-6766).

Many parks also plan special viewing events, and will have available eclipse viewers and eclipse glasses for sale for $1 each.

“You never want to look directly at the sun,” Vale said. “During totality, you should be reasonably safe, but you don’t want to be looking prior to or after that without protection.”

The parks system also will hold a “total eclipse bicycle ride” on the Katy Trail that will start in Rocheport and end at the trail spur north of Jefferson City. An event will follow at the state capitol. Space is limited so registration is required at mostateparks.com/eclipseride.

The 36-mile ride is limited to 500 people. A $50 registration fee includes an eclipse Katy Trail t-shirt, water bottle, special eclipse glasses and staff to provide information about the eclipse and how to safely view it.

An optional return shuttle for $25 will haul riders and bicycles from Jefferson City to Rocheport after the ride.

Another Eclipse in 2024

Total eclipses actually are not rare; two occur somewhere in the world every year. What is special about this one is its path over the United States, with viewing possibilities for millions of people.

“It happens about twice a year but the diameter of the shadow is only about 60 or 70 miles wide, so only a small number of people get to see it,” Vale said.

“Because this eclipse is over land so long, and not the ocean, it will be one of the longest observed eclipses in history. You really can’t line up boats in the ocean to watch them.”

Missourians can observe another eclipse on April 8 of 2024, but the path of totality will cross only the southeast corner of the state.

For more information, visit mostateparks.com.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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