The Tourism of Totality: Lake Champlain Reacts to Total Solar Eclipse and Preps for Earth Day Activities

By Gabriella Marchesani, Science Communications Intern
April 18, 2024

On Monday, April 8, the Lake Champlain basin was the perfect spot to witness the 2024 solar total eclipse. Thousands of people gathered in Burlington’s Waterfront Park to witness the eclipse from the shores of Lake Champlain. Those gathered along Burlington’s waterfront were only a small fraction of the estimated 160,000 eclipse visitors in Vermont and up to 500,000 visitors in the Adirondacks. While the Lake Champlain Basin was crowded here to witness the eclipse, people weren’t the only ones reacting to the path of total darkness. 

Lake Champlain and its surrounding forest and wetland areas support a diverse wildlife population, and animals had their own reactions to the eclipse. Many eclipse-watchers also observed the animals —particularly birds. Birding students at the University of Vermont noticed birds they hadn’t normally seen nearby, including bohemian waxwings, red-tailed hawks, and pileated woodpeckers. Animals react to the change in lighting and temperature of the eclipse in different ways, often confused about the time of day. During the eclipse in 2017, scientists recorded large clouds of insects and birds moving rapidly across the sky.

The animals weren’t the only thing affected by the eclipse! With a large number of tourists, there is inevitable trash that follows. Whether people observed from the shores of Lake Champlain or elsewhere in the Basin, anything left behind will make its way down toward the lake. Trash and plastic can make its way into lakes by being blown by wind or washed in through storm sewers or rivers. Along the way and once in the lake, plastic will slowly break into small pieces called microplastics, harming local ecosystems. Lake Champlain Sea Grant is working to help community members learn about plastic pollution in the environment and identify solutions to minimize it. Lake Champlain Sea Grant's Watershed Alliance program works with students to identify microplastics in fish, our outreach team helps with and leads beach cleanups, and we have a team conducting research on microplastics in the lake.

While we don’t expect as many visitors as on April 8, summer is approaching and bringing with it many more tourists. As the snow melts and the temperatures rise, the plastic trash from the winter will make its way onto the shores of the lake. Our staff will be involved in Earth Day clean-ups throughout the Basin.

  • If you’re in the Burlington area, join us, the Rozalia Project, and partners for an Earth Day Cleanup on Saturday, April 20! From 9am-10:30am cleanup at the Community Sailing Center (505 Lake St) followed by a trash sorting from 11 am - 2pm at the Church Street Marketplace in front of City Hall (149 Church St).
  • If you’re in Plattsburgh, join a community-wide clean up day on Earth Day. Stop by City Hall or Town Hall from 9 to 10am on April 20 to get trash bags, gloves, and organic waste bags. After a morning clean-up, join community members in Trinity Park for an Earth Day Celebration.
  • Join our friends at Ausable River Association on Saturday, April 20th at the Community Center Pavilion in Keene for an Earth Day cleanup. They're looking for volunteers to help remove garbage and debris from roadways and riverbanks in the Lake Placid, Wilmington, Jay, Upper Jay, and Keene communities. Lunch and raffle prizes will be available after the cleanup to celebrate.

Gabriella Marchesani is a senior at the University of Vermont studying Environmental Studies. This semester she is working with Lake Champlain Sea Grant to connect current happenings to the ongoing work of Lake Champlain Sea Grant to develop and share science-based knowledge to benefit the environment and economies of the Lake Champlain basin.