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North Georgia towns brace for huge crowds for solar eclipse

Dillard City Clerk Glenda Enloe was in her office when she got an unusual call from a man looking for a house or cabin to rent — two years in advance.

» RELATED: The ultimate guide to the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse this August 

“He was the first one who told me about the eclipse,” she said. “He said, ‘Look it up.’”

She went on the internet and was floored to learn that on Aug. 21, 2017, tiny Dillard would be one of the most sought-after viewing sites for the first total solar eclipse to cross the United States coast to coast in nearly 100 years.

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Dillard, with a population of 330 or so people, and the nearby towns of Rabun Gap and Clayton are in the narrow path of totality that runs from Oregon to South Carolina.

Millions of people — from scientists to families and international visitors — are expected to watch the solar eclipse.

» RELATED: How Georgians can watch the rare total solar eclipse this summer 

Ga. 246 looking down on the town of Dillard. The town won’t be so peaceful when crowds gather for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse. FILE PHOTO (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“We’ve never had this big of an event in Dillard,” said Enloe, who said they’ve been told to expect tens of thousands of people. “I don’t know if we had a number in our heads, but it was nowhere near what they’re telling us.”

» RELATED: Solar eclipse events in Georgia 

For the past year, the city has been planning a three-day festival that will include music, food and other activities, which will probably create one of the biggest traffic jams the area has ever seen.

There’s enough parking in downtown for 325 vehicles.”Even if we get 20,000 people, I don’t know where they are all going to park,” she said. “We’re just doing the best we can. This thing has really snowballed.”

» RELATED: Need last-minute eclipse plans? These Georgia state parks are hosting awesome solar eclipse events

Hotels, nearby campgrounds and RV parks have been booked for months, and they’re still getting calls every day.

Like Dillard, cities with just a few hundred or a couple of thousand residents will be swamped with huge crowds of moon-gazing folks.

Three years ago, Moody Barrick, public works director for the city of Clayton, and also a hobbyist photographer, was researching tips on photographing a lunar eclipse when he stumbled upon a site about the solar eclipse and realized his community was right along the path of the solar eclipse.

» RELATED: UGA professor creates map of Waffle House restaurants to watch the solar eclipse from (seriously) 

Small North Georgia towns like Clayton are in a prime spot to view the Aug. 21 solar eclipse. CONTRIBUTED BY MOODY BARRICK (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“I’ve been excited ever since,” he said. He’s also been planning and practicing his strategy to capture the solar eclipse in images from a community clubhouse in Sky Valley. His enthusiasm is shared by many, and he knows many, many people will be heading to his community.

“I’ve been telling people, this is a very big deal,” he said. “For a while, I wasn’t sure they believed me.”

Now they know.

It will be a financial boost for some and a logistical headache for others.

Jane Tomlin, c0-owner of Tomlin BBQ in Rabun Gap, advises visitors to come “with a dose of patience and be prepared not to get anywhere fast.”

Her business usually closes on Mondays through Thursdays, and next week will be no different.

She will, instead, watch the solar eclipse from her yard along with a few relatives and friends.

The restaurant has already had a lot of pre-orders for ribs, briskets and specialty casseroles.

“We’ve never had anything like this, so it’s hard to prepare,” she said.

Conservative estimates call for 25,000 people in Rabun County alone while the top end is well over 100,000. Rabun County is 377 square miles and has only 20,000 full-time residents.

Sylvia “Cissy” Henry, Clayton city manager, said public parking will be available at several spots, including the Clayton City Hall parking lot, a lot along Ramey Boulevard. There will also be parking available at Mountain City City Hall. The parking spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Shuttles will be provided to transport folks to the viewing party at the Rabun Gap Nacoochee School.

Louise Dillard, owner of the Dillard House restaurant and the 95-room inn, expects a full house at both. She said both the inn and 19 off-site cabins have been booked for the past six months.

Dillard’s clearing out a pasture that will be used for parking. She’s also already pre-sold 500 barbecue lunches in the conference center in addition to the restaurant.

The Dillard House is celebrating a century in business, making the eclipse an added bonus.

She does worry about whether she will have enough staff and food.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” she said. Still, “I’m extremely excited and thrilled to be participating in an event of this magnitude.”

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