Leila Beem Núñez, editor
It was 1973, and Paul McCullough was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, between the South American and African continents, witnessing something he has remained fascinated with ever since.
McCullough, a Manchester resident, was aboard an eclipse cruise ship over 40 years ago that intersected the path of a total eclipse.
“At that point I became hooked on the idea of seeing as many more of these as I could in my lifetime,” McCullough said.
Fortunately for McCullough, a former professor at Belmont University, his next chance will come on Aug. 21, when Tennessee is to experience the first total solar eclipse visible from Nashville since 1478, as the sun vanishes behind the moon. The eclipse’s path will span from South Carolina to Oregon, with parts of Middle Tennessee becoming a prime viewing area to see stars and planets in the middle of the day.
Though the eclipse cannot be viewed in its totality from Manchester – the city will experience a partial eclipse and significant darkness for a period in the middle of the day – a drive northwest on Highway 55 will yield more results, with each town along the way experiencing a longer period of totality until Sparta, which will see approximately 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality.
The closest spot to experience any totality will be Morrison, which will see about 20 seconds of it.
“There will not be a total eclipse in Manchester. It’ll be over 99 percent eclipsed, and that will be impressive, but the most impressive event by far is the total eclipse that will occur very close to Manchester,” McCullough said, noting that only during totality can brighter stars and planets be seen.
For McCullough, the chance to see the total eclipse very near to his home is a special one. He said he plans to see the next total eclipse in 2024 which will be visible from Arkansas but will not cross Tennessee. McCullough said the time is now, as Tennesseans will have to wait until 2566 to view another event in their home state.
McCullough, also a photographer, said for those wanting to get the full experience, the drive is not very long.
“I think the significance of this event like this as a photographer is that this is really one of those things you really can’t capture in its totality,” McCullough explained. “You just have to be there.”
What to expect in Manchester
One of the most important things to note, said Jere Matty, director at AEDC STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Center, is that because the eclipse will not be total in Manchester, residents should not look directly at the sun unless they have safety glasses.
“It’s important for people without glasses to not go outside and stare at this thing, of course,” Matty said, adding that only during totality is it safe to look directly at the sun.
But those who don’t have the opportunity to travel out of Manchester Aug. 21 can still expect for the experience to be out of the ordinary. The start of the partial eclipse in Manchester will begin at 12 p.m., reach its max at 1:31 p.m. and end at 2:56 p.m.
“They’re going to be surprised to have it become pretty dark in the middle of the day,” Matty laughed. “It’s going to be very dramatic, and with a little luck it will be a clear day. It’s a big deal because it’s the only time in our lifetime that we will be able to see this here.”
Matty emphasized how unusual the eclipse event really is.
“It’s only a 70-mile swath coming over Tennessee,” Matty said. “When you look at its path across the country, that’s pretty significant.”
TVA prepares for visitors
What are you doing for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse? Consider taking in the view on one of the South’s most beautiful reservoirs.
With about 200 million people living within a day’s drive of the path of the total eclipse across the country, tens of thousands of people are expected to descend on the Tennessee Valley in order to view the Aug. 21 cosmic event.
Before all eyes are looking up that day, experts at TVA are looking around to ensure their public sites are ready to handle the expected crowds.
“We’re preparing for the eclipse like any other busy holiday weekend,” said Jerry Fouse, TVA’s recreation strategy specialist. Fouse said TVA has plans in place to address public safety, restrooms and litter control. “With all the folks visiting, we want our recreation areas perfect so they keep coming back.”
Fouse and his team have about 12 billion reasons to keep TVA public lands in top shape. According to a 2017 University of Tennessee Study, the annual value of recreation on the Tennessee River reservoir system for the region is worth $11.9 billion. Keeping TVA areas ready to accept visitors helps stimulate local businesses as they cater to tourists visiting the state to experience the total eclipse
And that’s a good thing. “We’re open for this unique opportunity, and we want everyone to safely see the eclipse and enjoy the Valley’s southern hospitality,” says Fouse.
While many TVA campgrounds are already booked, there are plenty of free TVA sites and Tennessee State Parks where visitors can see the eclipse.
TVA’s campgrounds are already booked, but you can catch the view from day-use recreation areas on dam reservations. For the best view of the total eclipse, Fouse recommends the following TVA locations: Fontana, Tellico, Fort Loudon and Watts Bar.
Fouse reminds folks who plan to visit TVA public lands that they should only camp and park in designated areas and never cross any safety barriers. In addition, in order to keep everyone safe, stopping on roads over dams will not be permitted. For viewing safety tips, visit the NASA eclipse site.
If you’re in or visiting the Tennessee Valley to view the eclipse, don’t forget to record your experiences and share photos and videos using the hashtag #TVAFun. Tagging #TVAFun will enter you to win a GoPro camera.
Tennessee State Parks
With 18 Tennessee state parks in the path of the total eclipse, many of them are offering weekend eclipse celebrations and are preparing for a potential influx of public attendance on public lands. Six state park events occur in close proximity to TVA lands or directly on the reservoirs. The overlap is likely to spur record attendance on TVA recreational assets.