On Aug. 21, 2017, millions of people across North America will pause to experience the solar eclipse, a phenomenon that many have a chance to witness. The main attraction is the relatively thin path of totality that is a 70-mile-plus wide swath across the U.S. that begins on the Siuslaw National Forest in Oregon and ends on the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests in South Carolina.
The event offers us all exceptional opportunities and unique challenges, whether the lands we manage are in the path of totality or not. We expect large, even unprecedented, crowds, especially on the 28 national forests, grasslands and recreation area in the path.
The excitement of this event continues to grow. Expected crowds are such that Oregon plans to mobilize the National Guard to assist local authorities to maintain safety and keep order in the state.
This event, which hasn’t been witnessed in North American in 99 years, also comes during the hottest, driest time of the year. About 42 large wildfires fires continue burning across the country, with more than 16,000 firefighters and support personnel deployed.
There are many reasons to be concerned, unplanned wildfire chief among them. This is also an opportunity, however, for the Forest Service to put our best foot forward. We have a unique chance to showcase America’s backyard to millions of people, many of whom are visiting national forests and grasslands for the first time.
We want this spectacular event to shine a light on the work that we do every day. We know these federal lands provide myriad benefits to the American people. Landscapes, vistas, rivers, lakes, and streams offer not only world-class recreation opportunities but connect communities economically, culturally, and environmentally.
This one-day event lasts less than three minutes. The memories people create, however, can last a lifetime. This a journey we help our visitors along every day. We know our job, we do it every day, and we do it well. I am confident every one of you will make this a day that everyone can remember.
But, let’s not forget our obligation to foster safe experiences for our visitors. I also remind you that we have a commitment to a culture of safety among ourselves. Please, look out for our visitors, look out for yourselves, and look out for each other—just as we do every day of every year.
Whether it is an enormous event like the eclipse, or a single family spending a weekend together on their national forests and grasslands, our job remains the same. Values we share and the work we do never changes. Our commitment to serve the American people endures.