Casper’s Eclipsefest Director Reflects On The Event, Eyes Her Future
Anna Wilcox arrived in Casper in late spring 2016 to help plan for the city's biggest event.
Sixteen months later early Monday, Aug. 21, Eclipsefest director Wilcox arose to an ultimate OMG event-planning moment.
"Oh my goodness, did we do all of this for nothing? What if all these people don't show up," she said Thursday.
But the preparations paid off, the weather was perfect, potential disasters from wildland fires to health crises didn't happen, and lots of events such as Astrocon educated and entertained thousands of people.
"We could wake up tomorrow and have it not even happen, and we've already succeeded," Wilcox said "Everyone who's been here already has had a good time."
She worked from a little office in the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and spoke in the conference room in front of the large map where visitors from more than half the nations in the world stuck little red-headed pins.
Wilcox has pulled off the posters and notes stuck on her office wall, and put her stuff in storage. She soon will return to her hometown in Iowa, visit friends, figure out what she wants to do next, and take a deep breath after nearly nonstop work, she said.
"This job's kind of set the bar pretty high," she said.
Casper, named as one of the best places in the United States to view the total eclipse, was expected to attract up to 50,000 sungazers many of whom not only were new to Casper or Wyoming, but even the United States.
There was no precedent for such a crowd, no opportunity for a trial run, and only a vague notion about what it would be like to roll together the Casper Finals National Rodeo, Parade Day, the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo, a bunch of holidays, and lost tourists on their way to Yellowstone.
And the Sun, Moon and Earth weren't going to change course, either.
"There was no blueprint," Wilcox said.
Astronomers knew for decades, and locals knew for years of the inevitability of the eclipse, but coordinating all that required an event-planning specialist.
After some civic debate, Wilcox was hired based on the recommendation of a committee composed of members of the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance, the City of Casper, the Downtown Development Authority, and the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
She came here as an outsider, with the downside being that she would be perceived and possibly ignored as such. On the other hand, that worked in her favor as she looked at the eclipse and Eclipsefest from the perspective of a visitor, Wilcox said.
"The logistics, the operations, really taking a big picture and looking at that entire thing and figuring out how does this filter down into specific roles and specific goals and how do we get there -- that is what I brought to the table," she said.
She and local organizers oversaw a lot of meetings; the website; the scientific interest from backyard astronomers to NASA; queries from the media from K2Radio.com to CNN to the BBC; queries from citizens from scores of nations; the emergency management planning with law enforcement, fire departments, hospitals and clinics, the Wyoming Highway Patrol, the Game and Fish Department, and others; the cooperation of businesses and nonprofit organizations; air transportation; permits for food and beverage sales; lodging -- some hotel rooms were going for four digits a night; promotion of recreational opportunities; sponsored events such a concert by the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra; and parking.
And of course there were the naysayers with #notmyeclipse; rumors of mass suicides and counties buying body bags in bulk; rumors of restaurants and grocery stores running out of food; rumors of -- no joke -- illegal immigrants sneaking in on planes flying to the Casper-Natrona County International Airport; and the usual "it's the end of the world as we know it."
Looking back, Wilcox said after some initial skepticism, Casper residents mostly treated her well and pitched in for the preparations.
Looking ahead, she plans to be in Argentina for the next total eclipse on July 2, 2018.
And she might even return here for her next career move, Wilcox said. "I haven't counted Casper out as one of my options."