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Celestial stops: Where to watch the 2017 eclipse in Nebraska
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Celestial stops: Where to watch the 2017 eclipse in Nebraska

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For one day, Lincoln could be the largest city in Nebraska that matters.

Nowhere else in the state should offer so many of its own residents prime views of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse as its shadow sweeps from coast to coast. Weather permitting, nearly all of Lincoln's 280,000 residents can experience the celestial event from their own backyards.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Jeff Maul, executive director of the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau. "I think Lincoln people need to be aware that we're going to have people from all over the world here ... and it's going to be gone before you know it."

Lincoln's last major eclipse — on May 10, 1994 — was an annular eclipse, in which the moon is too far away to completely block the sun. No total eclipse has ever cut through the Capital City during its recorded history.

While nearly all of Lincoln is within the Aug. 21 eclipse path, far southwest Lincoln is closest to the center line and will experience the longest totality: 1 minute, 51 seconds.

Expect county roads between Lincoln and Beatrice to turn into impromptu viewing sites long before the partial eclipse begins at 11:37 a.m., followed by the total eclipse at 1:02 p.m.

People looking for structured eclipse events have options in the Capital City.

Gates at Haymarket Park will open at 11 a.m. for a total solar eclipse game between the Lincoln Saltdogs and Gary SouthShore Railcats. Tickets start at $6.

"We'll have a solar eclipse delay in the baseball game, which is somewhat unique," Maul said. 

Just outside Haymarket Park and accessible to the general public, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will host a science and engineering expo with exhibits tied to the solar eclipse. 

For free eclipse viewing, people can set up blankets at any city park or Audobon Spring Creek Prairie near Denton.

And for those willing to drive a bit farther, here's a look at some events and viewing sites planned across the state:

Beatrice

This is ground zero for Nebraska's eclipse festivities. Beatrice and other communities in Gage County expect as many as 60,000 visitors combined, including Omahans hoping to glimpse the total eclipse and Lincoln residents seeking an extra minute of totality.

In addition to a full slate of events over the eclipse weekend, Homestead National Monument will have two stages set up for the eclipse itself. NASA will be there, and so will Bill Nye "The Science Guy."

"The closer it gets, I'm getting more excited about it all the time," says Lisa Wiegand, Gage County tourism director.

Totality begins: 1:02 p.m.

Length of totality: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

More details: eclipsebeatrice.com

Seward

America's Fourth of July city will ditch the fireworks to celebrate a darkened sky for a change. At least seven sites in town will host eclipse viewing opportunities and events, including the Nebraska National Guard Museum and Concordia University.

Totality begins: 1:01 p.m.

Length of totality: 1 minute, 35 seconds

More details: sewardeclipse.com

Crete/Wilber

Just north of the eclipse center line, Wilber is partnering with nearby Crete to offer a weekend of events and viewing sites the day of the eclipse. The party starts in Crete on Saturday and continues in Wilber on Sunday, and both towns have viewing sites and events Monday.

Totality begins: 1:01 p.m.

Length of totality: 2 minutes, 36 seconds (in Wilber)

More details: wilberchamberofcommerce.com

Falls City

Folks here are hoping for a quieter look at the sky. Falls City plans to close off two blocks of its cobblestone main street for a "Dine in the Dark" luncheon catered by two local restaurants. 

Totality begins: 1:04 p.m.

Length of totality: 2 minutes, 37 seconds

More details: fallscityareachamber.com

Aurora

Aurora's resident "mad scientist," Dan Glomski of the Edgerton Explorit Center, will guide viewers at the Leadership Center in northeast Aurora during the eclipse. Parking is available at two other viewing sites, Streeter Park and the Hamilton County Fairgrounds.

Totality begins: 12:59 p.m.

Length of totality: 2 minutes, 31 seconds

More details: edgerton.org

Grand Island

Another option for those who want to leave town but avoid a long drive, Grand Island's main eclipse event won't require a lot of advance planning: Viewing spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, on the south edge of Grand Island, offers 200 acres of land for free parking and viewing, with food trucks and events, including a NASA balloon launch, speakers and a performance by Nebraska musician Paul Siebert.

Totality begins: 12:58 p.m.

Length of totality: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

More details: stuhrmuseum.org

Hastings

Hipsters, Hastings is summoning you. This city's eclipse event, "SolFest," will feature a Friday night gala with a speech by retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson, a Saturday music festival in collaboration with Hear Nebraska's Good Living Tour, a Sunday art festival called Art & Sol, then eclipse viewing at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center.

Totality begins: 12:58 p.m.

Length of totality: 2 minutes, 14 seconds (2 minutes, 33 seconds at Crane Trust)

More details: solfesthastings.com

Kearney

Sharing the spotlight with its northern neighbor Ravenna, Kearney has many of its own events planned, especially leading up to the eclipse itself, including a trail run and cage fights on Saturday, and live music Sunday at The Archway and the Museum of Nebraska Art.

The day of the eclipse, for those not going to Ravenna, the University of Nebraska at Kearney will host a watch party at Foster Field, and Fort Kearny State Recreation Area will couple viewing with a science encounter. Public viewing will also be available at the Buffalo County Fairgrounds and the Viaero Center parking lot south of Interstate 80.

Totality begins: 12:57 p.m.

Length of totality: 1 minute, 54 seconds

More details: visitkearney.org

Ravenna

One of the viewing sites chosen by die-hard sun-gazers, expect a flood of people on the road to Ravenna from Kearney come eclipse day to enjoy an extra 38 seconds of totality. 

But the city isn't leaving all pre-eclipse festivities to its larger neighbor to the south. Cedar Hills Vineyard & Garden is hosting a Friday night "star party," followed by Ravenna's first-ever music festival on Saturday. Sunday events include a golf tournament, trapshoot and a road cruise. 

Totality begins: 12:57 p.m.

Length of totality: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

More details: solareclipseravenna.com

North Platte

Like Kearney, North Platte will serve as a launching point for neighboring communities closer to the eclipse's center line, while still hosting its own viewing events.

Charter buses will make round trips to nearby Stapleton and Tryon throughout the weekend, starting as early as 7 a.m. the day of the eclipse, said Lisa Burke, director of the North Platte Visitors Bureau. 

In North Platte, Pal's Brewing Co. will tap a special "Midnight in the Daylight Stout" before the eclipse, Feather River Vineyards is hosting a $12 lunch buffet, and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park will hold a daylong scavenger hunt.

Totality begins: 12:54 p.m.

Length of totality: 1 minute, 40 seconds

More details: 2017nebraskaeclipse.com

Stapleton/Tryon

Deep in Sandhills ranching country, these two towns — with a combined population of about 500 — expect thousands of visitors to soak in unobstructed views of the eclipse in conjunction with events in North Platte. Local officials expect visitors from Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, among others.

"It's going to be a short boost to the economy around here," says eclipse event coordinator Gary Johnsen. 

Totality begins: 12:53 p.m.

Length of totality: 2 minutes, 33 seconds

More details: stapletonnebraskaeclipse2017.comfacebook.com/sandhillseclipse2017tryonnebraska

Alliance

It's all about Carhenge. One of Nebraska's quirkiest landmarks is expected to draw a significant crowd for the eclipse. Even the governor will be here. But how many people can Carhenge accommodate? "Good question," says manager Kevin Howard. "We could have 15,000."

Other viewing sites include Laing Lake Park and the Airport Rodeo Grounds, and the Alliance Municipal Airport is hosting a fly-in, reservation-only viewing site.

Totality begins: 11:49 p.m. (MDT)

Length of totality: 2 minutes, 20 seconds (2 minutes, 28 seconds at Carhenge)

More details: carhengesolareclipse2017.com

Scottsbluff/Gering

The neighboring communities boast scenic views of the eclipse from three different viewing sites: Five Rocks Amphitheater (sandstone rock formations), Legacy of the Plains Museum (views of Scotts Bluff National Monument), and Landers Soccer Fields. 

Totality begins: 11:48 a.m. (MDT)

Length of totality: 1 minute, 42 seconds

More details: visitscottsbluff.com, visitgering.com

State parks

More than two dozen Nebraska state parks and recreation areas are along the eclipse path, and many are hosting special events for the eclipse: Mormon Island State Recreation Area, Fort Kearny State Recreation Area, Indian Cave State Park, Windmill State Recreation Area, Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, Niobrara State Park, Lake Minatare State Recreation Area and Smith Lake Wildlife Management Area.

More details: outdoornebraska.gov/eclipse

Honorable mention

OK, Omaha. We couldn't leave you out — but even a participation trophy would exaggerate your role in this.

You will not experience totality, just a partial eclipse. However, the rest of us appreciate your big airport and your wide assortment of hotels, restaurants and activities to accommodate our thousands of guests.

Totality begins: It doesn't.

Length of totality: 0 minutes, 0 seconds

More details: visitomaha.com

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