LEWISTON — Despite a rough start with a rainout Friday night, organizers of the Great Falls Balloon Festival were pleased to see three launches over the last three days and were keeping fingers crossed for a fourth on Sunday night.
On Sunday morning, hundreds of visitors gazed skyward as balloon after balloon lifted off into a sky with mild breezes but threatening clouds on the horizon.
But Sam Guay, 3, of Lewiston, could care less about the weather reports. In his father David’s arms, he just wanted another photo of the next balloon up in the air. Whether it was Raspberry Ripple or “the bear one,” Sam, who has been coming to the balloon festival since he was an infant, was fixated and happy.
“Jewel looked at me,” Sam Guay said of the giant hummingbird-shaped balloon that’s one of the specialty balloons this year.
“We come every year, most of the time in the morning. It’s a little hard to come in the evening,” David Guay said. “It’s a family event.”
Barry Putnam, also of Lewiston, was equally fixated and happy. Putnam, a former Lewiston City Councilor and a long-time resident, said he’s been to every single balloon festival and hasn’t missed a launch yet.
“I’ve been coming since the beginning,” Putnam said. He said his favorite balloon this year was Freedom Flyer, a balloon that features the U.S. Constitution and the American flag as part of its design.
Putnam, like others, observed the weather had been relatively cooperative for the festival in 2015. “We’ve been very fortunate with the launches,” he said.
Nearby 4-year-old Landon Comeau-Waite of Leeds was perched on dad Jack Waite’s shoulders. A little sleepy still, Landon was born on a balloon festival day. “He was born at 5 a.m.,” his mother, Amanda Comeau, said.
On the last weekend of their family’s vacation, Amanda Comeau said it was the only morning she and her husband get to wake the kids up early. Her oldest is off to college now, so it was also the first year she didn’t have all the kids at the festival, she added.
Festival Balloon Meister Mickey Reeder said she was thrilled with the turnout Sunday morning and Saturday night, when launches went ahead despite forecasts that were less than sunny.
Reeder said the crowd is great for local businesses — hotels and restaurants in the area were all full and busy. She was impressed by the numbers of non-Maine visitors to the festival this year, proof the event was drawing lots of tourists to the Twin Cities.
“We have so many summer tourists that have found this festival,” Reeder said. “It just blows me away, it makes it all worthwhile. Really when you think about people come to go to the coast or go to the mountains, and we don’t really have either one of those, so kind of have to have a drawing card to get them to come and stay. These festivals are so important to the economy.”
The forecast for Sunday evening wasn’t perfect, but the weather in Maine is fickle, and by 6 p.m. the storm that was threatening may have already moved through the region or it may even just blow around Lewiston-Auburn, Reeder said.
“Sometimes they just miss us altogether,” she said.
Our Great Falls Balloon Festival section has stories, photos, videos and social media coverage of the launches and non-launches.