BEATRICE — Thousands of visitors last August contributed to Homestead National Monument of America hitting its highest annual attendance on record.
Park Superintendent Mark Engler said the unofficial count for 2017 was 123,399 visitors, setting a record and marking the second year ever that attendance has topped six figures.
Last year’s attendance intensified in August, as the total solar eclipse generated international attention for the National Park Service site.
“That weekend was a huge weekend for the park and especially the day of totality, that Monday, was huge,” Engler said. “I think one of the great things that comes from these numbers is the economic impact generated from those thousands and thousands of people who found their way to the monument. The benefits of their spending were seen within the community, regional area and within the state and beyond.”
Homestead National Monument was deemed a prime viewing spot for the eclipse since it was directly in the path of totality, and also experienced total darkness for one of the longest durations.
The 2017 estimate represents an approximate 40 percent increase over 2016’s attendance of 87,755.
Engler said attendance Monday, Aug. 21, the day of the solar eclipse, was 20,991. The park hosted numerous events in the days leading up to the eclipse, including presentations from NASA scientists. Total attendance for the four days of festivities was 36,749.
But the boost generated by the eclipse wasn’t limited to four days.
“All through the year leading up to totality, we had people traveling here to basically determine if they were going to come here for the eclipse,” Engler said. “Not only to determine if they were coming here, but to scope out where in the monument they could view the eclipse from. There was a lot of traffic leading up the eclipse that had a positive impact on the visitation, as well.”
In addition to the eclipse, Homestead was the site of programs throughout the year to celebrate Nebraska’s 150th year as a state that contributed to attendance figures.
Engler said several thousand people also visited Homestead as the result of a price increase to a Park Service pass program for seniors.
Homestead doesn’t charge admission and programs are free, but it does sell America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands passes, which cover admission to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country.
Lifetime passes for seniors age 62 and over were previously $10, though the price was bumped to $80 for a lifetime pass or $20 for an annual pass, prompting thousands of people to get it at the cheaper rate.
The only other year Homestead’s attendance has topped 100,000 was in 2012, when 103,000 people visited the site to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act of 1862, for which the NPS site was established. To mark the occasion, the Homestead Act, signed by President Abraham Lincoln himself, was on display in Gage County.
The 2017 eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many, though Engler speculated the rare event will have an impact on Homestead for years to come.
“Along with the thousands that found their way to Homestead for the eclipse, thousands, if not millions, learned about the monument through news media and special coverage of the event,” he said. “I have to wonder if the eclipse is still in play from the standpoint that people learning about us through the eclipse want to learn more about Homestead National Monument of America in person.”