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Oregon town to host sleepovers in parks before eclipse

One of 2,900 temporary signs put up at city parks in Salem the weekend before the Monday eclipse. KATU photo.

SALEM, Ore. — The city of Salem is putting up signs and getting ready to host sleepovers ahead of the Monday morning eclipse.

Authorities are allowing people to stay the night in city parks starting Saturday night. But it's not a free-for-all.

Mike Gotterba, the emergency preparedness and communications manager for Salem's public works department, said the city believes the Salem area's population could double.

As of Friday evening, it hadn't happened yet.

A KATU crew did not see an unusual number of people on the roads or walking around.

An Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman confirmed he didn't see unusual traffic in the area either.

But that could change this weekend.

"We expect a lot of people to be coming into town," said Gotterba. "The estimates range from 100 thousand to half-a-million."

In anticipation, he said the city decided to allow people to sleep over in parks starting Saturday night through Monday.

As the 2,900 temporary signs put up in the parks suggest, there are rules.

"We're gonna let people put up small tents and sleeping bags and do all the things that they can do in the parks during the daytime, and we're not gonna allow any open fires or big tents, campouts, tailgating," Gotterba explained. "no RVs unless they can fit into a single parking place."

Shirley Christie, who lives near a city park, told KATU she's all for the sleepover policy.

"I think it's a great idea," Christie said. "It just shows off our town even more."

But Ethan Rumley, who visits Bush's Pasture Park often with his 3-year-old daughter, has concerns.

"I want to be down here. I want to take my daughter out here to share this because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But it's probably gonna be too much chaos," Rumley said. “That’s a lot of garbage. That’s a lot of potential crime.”

Gotterba said 90 additional city staff members will be out in parks to watch what's going on and help people if necessary.

There are also 116 additional port-a-potties and additional trash cans and dumpsters.

Christie, meanwhile, said she's not concerned about visitors.

"I think people that would come to something like this are pretty civic-minded and earth-conscious and good people," she explained.

Police plan to have extra officers out in force this weekend as well.

"We've canceled all future vacation requests," Lt. Dave Okada, of the Salem Police Department, said during a news conference on July 31. "We're focusing on having as many available bodies to us that day."

Regarding whether people are allowed to drink alcohol and smoke in parks, Kenny Larson, a city spokesman, emailed KATU the following statement:

"You can’t consume alcohol in parks unless you have reserved an area with the parks department and obtained the associated alcohol permit. Smoking and vaping are not allowed in any park within Salem, which includes parking lots located on park property. This includes e-cigarettes, marijuana, or consuming cannabis products."

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