The Belton Journal

Belton Parks and Recreation organized two public meetings on March 7, at the Harris Community Center. The purpose of the meetings were aimed at informing local businesses about the city’s efforts to bolster support in anticipation of the upcoming total solar eclipse on April 8.

Moreover, in response to the impending celestial event, Bell County has enacted a local emergency declaration to ensure the implementation of crucial measures prioritizing public safety in the days leading to, and following, the solar eclipse.

Belton is bracing itself for potential challenges such as traffic congestion, limited cell service, extended gas station lines, and potential shortages of essential items at popular retailers like H-E-B and Walmart.

The Belton Fire Department is ramping up its resources by assigning two additional crews to duty: one crew will be stationed on a Brush Truck while the other will be operating an Engine.

Emphasizing the significance of this staffing increase, Fire Chief Jon Fontenot remarked, “Having two crews on hand means six extra personnel present, a substantial reinforcement.” Furthermore, in a proactive move to ensure public safety during the event, a Fire Marshal and Deputy Fire Marshal (DFM) will be conducting on-site visits to official and unofficial camping sites, parks, and other high-traffic areas.

Fontenot stressed the importance of preparedness not only for businesses but also for the general public.

As the anticipation grows, Fontenot advised residents and visitors to make necessary preparations ahead of the weekend. It is recommended to fuel up vehicles beforehand, do your food shopping before the weekend as food supplies may run low and restaurants could reach capacity during peak mealtimes. Additionally, travelers in and around Belton as well as on Interstate 35 and Highway 14 should anticipate extended travel durations and heightened congestion.

Moreover, with the surge in cell phone usage expected during the eclipse, there is a possibility of telecommunication delays due to potential tower overloads affecting both cellular and internet services.

Belton Deputy Chief of Police, Daniel Aguirre, revealed the strategic staffing plans being put in place by the BPD.

Aguirre emphasized that the department would be overstaffing, drawing upon resources from various departments within the force that are not typically in uniform.

“We’re doubling our patrol division starting Friday and will maintain this level until things return to normal,” Aguirre explained.

Drawing inspiration from Wyoming’s Total Eclipse experience in 2017, Aguirre detailed how the department was prepared for the worst-case scenario, dispersing resources across the city and utilizing alternative modes of transportation like bicycles and ATVs if conventional routes are congested.

He also acknowledged the potential impact on response times, indicating that non-emergent calls may be directed online to streamline emergency services for critical situations.

As Belton readies itself for the celestial spectacle and the accompanying surge of visitors, these coordinated efforts by the fire and police departments reflect a proactive stance towards safeguarding the community during this extraordinary event. The BPD says that patience is the key. “We tell our guys to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, because it is going to be uncomfortable,” Aguirre said. Common concerns for the Police and Fire Department is criminal trespassing, assaults, intoxication offenses, drug offenses and traffic congestion.

Joe Dyer, Parks and Recreation Superintendent, briefed businesses on Belton’s preparations for the upcoming Total Eclipse event.

Guest speaker Liam Finn, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, will present Astronomy at Yettie Polk Park on Friday.

Leading up to the eclipse, activities include Market Days, a Concert at Schoepf’s BBQ, and the Annual Schoepf’s Bulls and BBQ.

Eclipse day is on Monday at Heritage Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The city had offered camping at Heritage Park, but canceled that due to lack of interest.

Dyer emphasized the opportunity to attract visitors to enjoy the events and contribute to the local economy. Businesses are encouraged to inform the Chamber of Commerce about special offerings for promotion.

Judy Garrett, Director of Marketing and Tourism Sales, highlighted the importance of restaurants and retailers showcasing special deals to benefit from the influx of visitors. Hotels will provide solar viewing sunglasses, and welcome bags will be distributed across the city.

This is a chance for businesses to get creative in attracting customers.

“Tell us what you are doing so we can push out your information on our social media platforms,’ Garrett said to the businesses.