Eclipse poster - Niagara Falls 2024
Contributed by NY State Parks

April 3, 2024 — In 2020, staff at New York State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (Parks) cast their eyes four years into the future – to April 8, 2024 – when a total solar eclipse’s path of totality would be passing directly over Niagara Falls State Park. 

A year ago, they began planning in earnest for an event Parks staff are comparing to the time Nik Wallenda tightroped over the falls in 2012. 

“Every summer holiday weekend is a big event, so we’ve been pulling from those playbooks to prepare,” said Angela Berti, who joined PEF in 2007 and is the Director of Public Affairs for the Niagara Region. “Our teams are used to handling big crowds, especially at Niagara Falls, but for this event it has been a matter of working with other local, state and federal agencies to tackle things like, how do we move traffic as smoothly as possible and how do we make sure everyone stays safe? 

“We have been working very closely with the Department of Transportation, New York State Police, the Thruway Authority, and the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services on traffic management plans and other topics needed to plan an event this large,” she said. 

Not all planning is crowd logistics 

Niagara Falls is known for its ticketed attractions, fireworks over the falls, hiking, environmental education, and more. Visitors will be able to enjoy those in the hours and days leading up to and after the eclipse. 

“We have been working to provide advance messaging to our patrons, so they know what to expect,” said PEF member Lindsey Presti, a Parks manager who has been with New York state for 27 years. “There are events throughout the city of Niagara Falls for the weekend and the day of the eclipse. We have made sure to provide opportunities for visitors to ‘arrive early and stay late’ by keeping attractions, such as the Cave of the Winds and the Maid of the Mist, open later than usual. 

“There will also be two fireworks shows in the evening, our partners in the city are having bands and food trucks and all sorts of entertainment,” she said. “Our environmental educators have planned a large- than-usual lineup of activities and walks to provide additional activities outside of viewing the eclipse.” 

PEF member Angelina Weibel, who joined the union in 2015, but has worked at Parks since 2007, said environmental educators have been including eclipse and solar programming in many of their field trip activities since last spring. 

“Our eclipse programming began with a trivia night at Niagara Falls State Park,” Weibel said. “Since then, we have hosted pinhole viewer making classes; presented ‘When the Eclipse was Last Here,’ all about the 1925 eclipse and what the world and Niagara Falls were like 99 years ago; and hosted a cooperative program with the Aquarium of Niagara on ‘Animal Response to a Total Solar Eclipse.’” 

Programming will continue right up until the weekend of the eclipse, including a Tiny Tots program all about space, a Fun in the Sun craft program, and the Raven Steals the Sun, presented by Perry Ground, a master Storyteller of the Onondaga Nation. 

Weibel said there will be increased hikes Friday through Sunday and there will be multiple Education Stations with hands-on, interactive information about the eclipse and the park itself at both Niagara Falls and Buffalo Harbor State Park. Parks will also have Braille and tactile media, and LightSound devices at each location. 

The LightSound device was developed in 2017 as a tool for the Blind and Low Vision (BLV) community to experience a solar eclipse with sound. The device uses a technique called sonification to convert light intensity to sound. As the moon eclipses the sun during the solar and the day darkens, the LightSound device will change its musical tone. 

Niagara Falls will not only be in the path of totality, offering visitors a chance to see the often-talked-of sun’s corona, but it will also play host to scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). 

“I’d like to say we had to lobby to woo them, but they actually reached out to us and asked if they could come to Niagara Falls as one of their key cities for this event,” Berti said. “We were thrilled to say yes, and it has been interesting planning with them. One day, someone couldn’t make a call because they were in space. You don’t hear that a lot!” 

Check out NASA’s official eclipse page on April 8 if you aren’t in the path of totality. 

Opening campgrounds, increasing staff 

For the expected masses, Niagara Falls and other state parks in the path of totality and surrounding areas are de-winterizing campgrounds and preparing for the camping season much earlier than usual. 

“We don’t usually open our campgrounds until mid-May, but Governor Hochul directed us to open for the eclipse so the team had to work to de-winterize and prepare during a season when it is still actually snowing out there and we don’t have the normal number of staff as we would during actual camping season,” Berti said.  

Parks has also arranged extra staffing for the event, brought in portable toilets, has tow trucks on standby, and will have EMT staff at the park. 

“I want to highlight how hard everyone is working to make this a truly memorable, safe event for our visitors,” Presti said. “We have staff coming in from all over the state for the weekend, but also so many other agencies have put in extra hours. It has been very impressive to see and be a part of this effort. We are accustomed to large crowds at Niagara Falls State Park, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.” 

Presti said the timing of the eclipse is also perfect because 2024 marks the centennial of the New York State Parks system. 

“This is a pretty exciting way for our park to start it off!” she said.