Thanks to a gift from the sun, moon and our earth, we're getting that campaign for free.

FILE PHOTO - The eclipse is running its swath through the north section of Central Oregon.Wonder how much it would cost for a several-months-long, multi-media, international advertising campaign that was guaranteed to draw some 300,000 to your rural region? No doubt multi-millions.

Thanks to a gift from the sun, moon and our earth, we're getting that campaign for free.

The Central Oregon region, in general, gets more than its share of positive publicity in national and international media, but thanks to one of our nation's finest small cities — Bend — that coverage is probably 99 percent Deschutes County-based.

Throw in cute, quaint Sisters, and the rest of the region has to battle for a line or two in a travel magazine or web post.

The eclipse, though, is running its swath through the north section of Central Oregon. Through visits and eclipse coverage, a large number of people are realizing that there are fantastic, beautiful elements of Oregon between Bend and the Columbia River. The tables are being turned. Instead of people driving through Prineville and Madras to get to Bend, they'll be driving through Bend to get to Prineville and Madras.

The Madras area will be swamped with visitors eclipse week, with at least 100,000 visitors expected in to watch the event in Jefferson County. It certainly didn't hurt that NASA proclaimed Madras as potentially the best spot in the country to watch the eclipse, and the Arizona-based Lowell Observatory is holing up at the Madras Performing Arts Center and high school football field, hosting a free Eclipse Eve star party and small-fee day-of program.

The Discovery Channel is live-broadcasting the Lowell event. NASA, Lowell Observatory, the Discovery Channel ... just like that free ad campaign, you can't buy that kind of promotion.

Prineville will be less swamped, but Crook County will be home to the largest regional eclipse gathering. The Symbiosis event on Big Summit Prairie is expected to draw about 35,000 for a multi-day festival. The vast majority of those people will be driving through Prineville en route, and on their way home or back to airports. A week at beautiful Big Summit, surrounded by the Ochoco National Forest — that's an excellent live postcard promoting Crook County.

The timberland, creeks, the reservoirs, the Crooked River, the rolling ranch country, Powell Butte — Crook County visitors will be smitten.

If indeed they can get around, visitors to Jefferson County can't miss the sprawling farm country, or the magnificent Cascades and the buttes in all directions. If they can get there, a few minutes at the viewpoints above Lake Billy Chinook should seal the deal.

While it may or may not lead to a trove of people wanting to relocate to our communities, the eclipse will certainly put North Central Oregon on maps. It will be hectic, a little or a lot crazy, but it's the best chance for the more rural elements of Central Oregon to make a great impression on a wide variety of people.

Our communities are generally known as friendly. Let's prove that to the world this month.

Let's be good hosts, and be good citizens of our hometowns — be smart and help alleviate chaos instead of adding to it.

The eclipse will last only about two hours. But the economic impact of the event on Jefferson and Crook counties may be felt not just in the days surrounding Aug. 21 but long into the future.

Tony Ahern is publisher of The Madras Pioneer and the Central Oregonian, which are part of the Pamplin Media Group.

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