by Tim Crosby
CARBONDALE, Ill. — Hotel rooms and campgrounds in Southern Illinois are filling up in anticipation of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse, but Southern Illinois University Carbondale is making another option available — one with many amenities.
The Student Recreation Center will open its doors to campers beginning Aug. 18, the Friday before the eclipse, which happens that Monday. Campers can remain there until Tuesday or possibly Wednesday, following the event.
The eclipse viewing path and shadow that day will sweep across the country from northwest to southeast, with its point of greatest duration a few miles south of Carbondale. The eclipse, the first over the mainland United States since 1979, is expected to draw thousands of people to the campus and region. Details about SIU’s plans for the eclipse are available here.
Troy Vaughn, director of recreational sports and services at SIU, said opening the center up to campers is aimed at alleviating any possible shortage of accommodations.
“We were made aware that many people who were trying to have accommodations during the eclipse were finding rates so high in local areas or places were booked,” Vaughn said. “We have the space and would love to welcome folks to campus who need a more economic and safe place to stay.”
Vaughn said the center can accommodate several hundred and that his office already is fielding calls from people interested in camping there. More information about camping at the Student Recreation Center, including pricing, can be found here.
Campers have the option of camping as a group or as an individual. Individual campers will get a 10-foot by 10-foot area on the floor of the west gymnasium.
“And we have many larger rooms that groups can reserve and can stay in while preparing to watch the eclipse or after the event,” he said.
Campers must provide their own basic amenities, such as tents, sleeping bags and such. But they also will have access to the center’s showers, cell phone charging stations and its many recreational options and facilities during normal hours of operation.
They also will be able to soak up another great benefit — air conditioning, which could prove important in mid-August, Vaughn said.
The center will have around-the-clock staffing for the duration of the camping event, Vaughn said.
“Staffing issues are a key for us. We will make it a safe place to stay so the facility will be staffed by my folks 24/7 during the stay,” he said. “We will also allow attendees to park close by the facility, which is an added plus.
“We will provide a safe and clean atmosphere for them,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn said camping at the Student Recreation Center is a great option for those on a tight budget but who still want to make their way to the best viewing. The center is only a 10-minute walk from Saluki Stadium, the site of much eclipse-related programming for the event.
“You could consider us one of the world’s largest hotels during the week or so the eclipse is here in Southern Illinois,” he said. “With so many things happening on campus that weekend and on Monday, you are right in the center of it all by staying in the Student Recreation Center.”