Eclipse festival at Big Summit mindful of environmental impacts

'Symbiosis' preparing for 30,000 visitors

Eclipse festival eyes environmental...

PRINEVILLE, Ore. - Over 30,000 people are expected to descend on Big Summit Prairie the weekend of the Aug. 21 eclipse.

All those people need to get there somehow, and the only way in and out is Highway 26. And in addition to the traffic congestion the festival could cause, there's been concern the sheer amount of people could harm the natural beauty of the prairie.

But the event is located in a spot called "scab flat" that minimizes environmental impact, organizers say. The 300-acre area is covered with marginal soil.

"Grass won't even grow there," Big Summit Prairie property owner Craig Woodward said Wednesday. "Wildflowers certainly don't grow there. A little bit of sagebrush, but little low-growing sagebrush is all that'll grow there."

The thousands of people also pose a fire risk, but again, the location is optimal for planning against it, Woodward said.

"The U.S. Forest Service and state (Department of) Forestry have stated that they'd much prefer to have this event happen on our property than be random outside here, because at least we have our thumb on 30,000 people," Woodward said.

Festival organizers want to be prepared, so they have their own privately contracted firefighters. And if that isn't enough, the Forest Service has backup plans.

"We plan on aerial delivery of firefighters if the roads are too congested," Ochoco National Forest Public Information Officer Patrick Lair said. "We can put firefighters in helicopters and deliver them to the fire starts."

The festival will go through the weekend prior to the eclipse and will end on Monday, Aug 21.

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