With Solar Fest West, to commemorate the Total Solar Eclipse Monday, West Columbia totality planners and city leaders wanted to show the city’s charm, natural beauty and hospitality. They did that and more.
“We are overjoyed at the over 2,500 visitors that came from near and far to enjoy the beautiful West Columbia Riverwalk and enjoy the celebration,” said Anna Huffman, West Columbia’s public information officer. “The volunteers, staff, council, bands, and vendors made Solar Fest West a huge success.”
Mayor Bobby Horton said the festival was a rare occasion.
“Solar Fest West gave us the opportunity to reward our citizens who support us,” said Horton. He also said the gathering at the city’s amphitheater was a chance to show off the city to a large contingent of out-of-state guests. And it did.
Rachel Stafler lives in England. She is originally from Baltimore, but her family has lived in London for 13 years. Stafler and her brother, her three children and his two, were all in attendance at Solar Fest West.
“We came for the eclipse,” said Stafler. Her brother, who lives in Charleston, found Solar Fest West online, so they decided to come because of that. She had never been to South Carolina before this trip. She said she was glad they wound up in West Columbia.
“It’s so nice for my kids to feel like they are a part of American culture,” Stafler said. “It’s been spectacular.”
Jerry and Jennifer Smith, with daughter Riley, came a shorter distance than Stafler.
“We’re from Greensboro, N.C.” Jennifer said. “There was 96 percent there. We wanted totality. Go big or go home.”
Jerry said they came to Solar Fest West to see the first total eclipse any of them had ever seen.” The family, Riley included, also said their experience in West Columbia will be the memory of a lifetime.
Dorian Gori was another European guest to Solar Fest West. He is from France.
“I planned my trip to go with the eclipse,” Gori said.
Gori, who is from Strasbourg, on the German border of France, said it’s “very fast” here. He
also said he had heard of “South hospitality” before he arrived and the people have been “so friendly.”
Gori said he was having a great time Monday and his host told told him about West Columbia and Solar Fest West.
Horton said the approval of the guests, local and from afar, is the reason the city held the festival.
“We wanted everyone to enjoy the music, the food, the entertainment,” Horton said. “And we want them to see the river and enjoy it. It’s a chance to showcase West Columbia. The eclipse is the focus, but it gives us the opportunity to bring in families, kids and even their dogs. They can get a taste of what is available here.”
Horton said all of the feedback he has seen has been positive.
“Folks from out of town say this place is so friendly. And they say they’ll come back.” he said.
While so many events centered around Monday’s eclipse, a new attraction on the Congaree River also made its debut on Saturday, as a part of the eclipse weekend.
Southern Lights is a laser art project with multi-colored beams that shoot over the river.
Chris Robinson, creator of Southern Lights was given the key to the cities of West Columbia, Columbia, and Cayce at the First Night Southern Lights premiere at Coble Plaza on Saturday night.
Horton, Columbia Mayor Steven Benjamin, and Cayce Mayor Elise Partin all paid tribute to the art project at the party held to introduce it.
Horton said because of the artwork, the City of West Columbia will keep its Riverwalk open two hours later to give people more time to see the nighttime display. He also said Robinson’s “Southern Lights” is the only one of its kind in the nation.
“We have two counties and three cities tied to each other by three rivers, Horton said. “That is unique.
Benjamin praised all three communities for pulling together and maximizing resources.
Partin said Southern Lights will bring people to the river and across it.
With the eclipse behind us, Horton said he feels good with the results.
“After months of planning, and lots of work by our staff and personnel, Solar Fest West accomplished its goal,” Horton said. “West Columbia put its best foot forward, and thousands were able to see all that the community has to offer. They got to see what we already know. West Columbia is a great place to be.”
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