Great Falls Balloon Festival returns to the skies Saturday night

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LEWISTON — It was up, up and away for more than a dozen hot air balloons at Saturday evening’s Great Falls Balloon Festival launch.

A large crowd filled Simard-Payne Memorial Park throughout the day as hot and sunny weather brought perfect conditions for the second day of the event. It was a glorious follow-up to Friday evening’s rain-canceled launch.

Good flight conditions around 6 a.m. Saturday morning allowed about 15 balloons to take flight and prospects were looking up for the whole weekend schedule.

“We’re so happy with today’s weather and the wind is going down,” said Morgan Hamlyn, the festival’s president, as evening launch time neared. “It has been an awesome turnout of people at the park today,” she added.

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The Saturday evening Moonglow display of tethered balloons did not take place at the park as scheduled.

“The pilots had some very wide flights,” Hamlyn said. “One of the balloons went as far as Minot.” The crews and balloons were not able to get back to the festival site until almost 9 p.m., she said, so the “Moonglow” event was scrapped.

Fans of the shape balloons hoped for a look at Jewel, the gigantic hummingbird shape balloon, but it wasn’t among the flyers at 6 p.m. Saturday. However, first appearance took place in early evening Saturday when it was inflated at mid-field. The Planet Earth balloon also was inflated there, and Hamlyn said that took place late enough after sunset to present a good moonglow effect for the attendees.

A large festival parade opened the principal part of the day’s program shortly before noon. It delighted cheering families on its 11 a.m. march from Auburn across Longley Bridge and down Lincoln Street to the park. Attendance was light in the morning as overcast skies cast doubts on chances for a good day. Skies brightened, and at the end of the morning parade the grounds filled rapidly.

The hotter it got, the more sales ramped up for the wide variety of food vendors. Among the organizations selling everything from hot dogs, fried clams and French fries to taco salads and fried Oreos were high school sports booths, Rotary Club, VFW Post 1603, Liberty Festival, DeMolay, and Kora Shrine. Several bands played at Auburn’s Festival Plaza where Children’s Miracle Network-Walmart had a food concession.

On the park grounds and around the Twin Cities, the festival emphasized events of historical interest. There was shuttle bus service for tours of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on Ash Street in Lewiston. Tours also were offered at Auburn’s historic Knight House, an early dwelling, located at the end of river walks connecting to the festival site.

A medieval village encampment filled Bonney Parkin Auburn, and many festival attendees walked from the main Lewiston site across the pedestrian trestle, once a railroad bridge, to the display of more than a dozen tents of various ancient design. There, members of the Society for Creative Anacronism demonstrated skills and lifetyles from hundreds of years ago. There were weavers, a blacksmith, an arrow maker, clothing and jewelry makers. Other members in historical costume and armor demonstrated combat skills.

The “Riding of Ravensbridge” re-enactors of pre-17th century European history and culture, are part of SCA groups in Maine who are associated with SCA members throughout the world. The re-enactors at the balloon festival are mostly from Lewiston-Auburn to Augusta.

Bands on the main stage at Simard-Payne Memorial Park kept large audiences grooving all day and into the evening.

Fearless young men and ladies scaled rock walls, climbed palm trees, swung from bungie cords and slid down slippery chutes … and these were mostly 6- or 7-year-olds who found an enticing assortment of amusements. A small carnival also operated through the day on Lincoln Street next to Rails Restaurant.

The options for fun were all over the place Saturday. Even something as serious as lifesaving had elements that made it enjoyable and memorable. Instruction in hands-only CPR was conducted by Michel Vining, education coordinator for United Ambulance in Lewiston.

Vining said people in their mid-teens show a lot of interest in the training, and she also saw a lot of parents encouraging their children to take a turn at the dummies used to show CPR technique.

Although isn’t aware that any CPR rescues had ever taken place on the festival grounds this year or in the past, Vining said it is always important to be aware of the dangers of heat and to be sure to keep hydrated.

Auburn woman volunteering for 23 years

AUBURN — Diane Gatchell of Auburn has been a volunteer at all 23 years of the Great Falls Balloon Festival, and she has a collection of souvenir pins to prove it.

Gatchell’s support of the festival began when she undertook crew training with John Reeder, balloonmeister from the beginning years. It was a spring/summer course, she recalls, it qualified here to serve on the ground crew for the huge Noah’s Ark shape balloon that first year. That was when the balloons launched from the Great Falls Plaza site in Auburn.

Gatchell said the training was done in four stages, at the end of each stage crew trainees earned one-quarter of a crew pin. When four were completed, she received her full pin.

In later years she help staff the festival’s information booth.

What were some of the most asked questions from attendees?

“If it’s a time of day when the balloons have not yet arrived at the field, everyone wants to know where they are and when will they come,” she said.

Of course, they want to know how they can get a ride in a balloon,” she said.

She’s also asked by out-of-towners where to find good places to eat and what else can they see in the L-A area, and has been an important booster of the Twin Cities.

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