LEWISTON — Almost all of the scheduled balloons took to the Twin Cities skies Sunday evening as part of the Great Falls Balloon Festival’s final launch of the weekend.
After a weekend of rocky weather and high winds, it was one of only two full launches at this year’s festival. The other was Friday morning’s, the first scheduled launch.
Because of gusting winds Sunday, it was up to each pilot’s discretion if he or she wanted to launch.
Each crew set off a small black balloon to check wind speed and direction. Crew members then decide if it is safe to launch and where the balloon might land.
Claire Schmoll of Lewiston was excited when the pilot of the balloon in which she was supposed to fly said they would be taking off.
“This is my first time,” she said. “I’m so excited.”
She said her husband would not go up in the balloon, but he was there watching.
“I’ve wanted to go for years,” Schmoll said. “This is sort of a wedding anniversary present to myself.”
Her excitement was shared with much of the more than 1,000 people who crowded Simard-Payne Memorial Park and watched each balloon prep and take off.
First, each balloon is rolled out and tethered to the ground and the basket, which is laid on its side.
Then a large fan is turned on at the opening of the balloon fabric to inflate it.
Once the balloon is inflated enough, the basket is turned upright and the fuel is turned on.
Finally, the pilot and passengers hop into the basket and take off.
Once each balloon lifted into the air Sunday night, the crowd cheered and applauded.
The specialty Elvis balloon inflated every night but never launched this weekend. Festival Organizer Mel Hamlyn said the Elvis balloon was only scheduled to launch Saturday and Sunday morning, and both of those launches were grounded.
She said that the Conair and Keystone Willy balloons were not able to make it to the festival due to a “travel emergency.”
Hamlyn said even with the weather, which was “not ideal,” she considered the weekend was a success.
‘“It was great,” she said. “We started with and ended with a beautiful launch.”
For a Saturday night with no launch, she said the field was packed with people, and Sunday was even more so.
She credited the extra activities, vendors and entertainment for drawing people to the field and getting them to stick around.
“It was good,” Hamlyn said. “We still had balloons inflate.”
Hamlyn said this year was better than last because they launched Friday.
“We lost Friday completely last year,” she said. “We might have had rain this year, but we didn’t have to shut down.”
Several comments across social media asked why there is not a “rain date” weekend, or a backup plan for when much of the weekend gets washed out.
Hamlyn said having a backup weekend is not feasible.
“There is so much to put this festival on,” she said. “To have to put everyone on hold for a week, as much as we’d love to be able to do that, we can’t.”
She said there is a crew here for the week before setting up, so the field would be tied up for two weeks in those situations.
“Foods been ordered, entertainments been booked,” Hamlyn said. “We can’t ask them to hold for a weekend. It’s just such a big event.”
Hamlyn also said when the first festival was being planned 27 years ago, organizers did a meteorological study and found the third week of August is the best weekend for weather in the Twin Cities.
Honi Glover pilots “Amazing Grace” up and over Simard-Payne Memorial Park during the evening launch of the Great Falls Balloon Festival in Lewiston on Sunday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Melissa Bourque and Roger Madore of Augusta lift off while flying in “Talwinds” during the Sunday morning launch of the Great Falls Balloon Festival in Lewiston. “Tailwinds” is piloted by Jim Rodrigue of Lewiston. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Jim Rodrigue, left, of Lewiston and Jason Boucher of Chester, New Hampshire, pilot their hot air balloons, Tailwinds and Serendipity, across the Androscoggin River and over New Auburn during the Sunday morning launch of the Great Falls Balloon Festival. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Ellie Rickett, 6, of Augusta helps pack the hot air balloon “Amazing Grace” during the morning launch of the Great Falls Balloon Festival in Lewiston. Pilot Honi Glover decided the wind had picked up too much to launch her balloon. Five minutes earlier and she could have launched, Glover told spectators. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Spectators had to wait a bit for the winds to calm down Sunday evening. But it was worth the wait once the pilots decided the launch was a go. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Big Max and Elvis inflate for a park full of people during the Great Falls Balloon Festival in Lewiston on Sunday morning. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Crowds gather to watch as the hot air balloon “Elvis” inflates during the Great Falls Balloon Festival in Lewiston on Sunday morning. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Andre Boucher of Derry, New Hampshire, uses his burner to inflate his hot air balloon during the Sunday morning launch of the Great Falls Balloon Festival in Lewiston. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Eleanor Schmitt, 6, of Turner plays on the trampoline as hot air balloons go up behind her during the Great Falls Balloon Festival in Lewiston on Sunday evening.
A crowd gathers on the walking bridge between Lewiston and Auburn during the Great Falls Balloon Festival on Sunday morning. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)