Launches canceled but weather doesn’t douse balloon festival


The 23rd annual Great Falls Balloon Festival’s no-launch decision came at 5:40 p.m. Sunday following the pilots’ final weather briefing.

Overcast skies and a steady mist led to the cancellation. The disappointing conditions were in sharp contrast to Saturday’s glorious summer weather when attendees of all ages thronged the Festival’s several sites.

A pancake breakfast kicked off Sunday’s Family Fun Day program and a good number of activities for kids were held following the morning’s launches.

Festival President Morgan Hamlyn said activities on the grounds went as planned until about 2 p.m. Sunday when rain drove many attendees off the field. Despite the wet weather, the condition of the field remained good compared to balloon festivals and other events of past years when there was mud everywhere.

Around 4 p.m., many of the commercial vendors were packing up. Nevertheless, the staffers in just about all of the nonprofit-sponsored food booths stayed on duty, ready to serve any of the few patrons remaining at the park.

Kelly MacKinnon, a festival director and chair of the food committee, said the food booths were “pretty busy” for Sunday morning’s 6 a.m. launch.

Local bands were also performing for sparse audiences through Sunday afternoon.

MacKinnon said Saturday’s excellent summer weather more than made up for the rain-marred programs on Friday and Sunday.

Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School was a newcomer to the food booth lineup this year. Their fare featured lobster rolls, fish chowder, clam chowder and lemonade.

The Oxford Hills booth was staffed by 18 students, parents and grandparents. They were raising funds to send a group of students to Italy, Greece and Spain in the coming school year.

Jennifer Sherbinski, chemistry and marine biology teacher, headed up the booth’s crew.

“It’s been a great experience for the kids,” she said. The fresh-squeezed lemonade was a big hit, she said, and Saturday’s hot weather kept the crew busy.

The day’s wet conditions prompted some changes in the schedule. The high-energy ZuZu African Acrobats, originally scheduled for Auburn Festival Plaza, changed their location at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon to the big white pancake breakfast tent at the park in Lewiston.

Billed as Family Fun Day, Sunday’s program opened with the Triple Crown Series Bridge Run from the Rollodrome in New Auburn to the festival grounds. Around 10 a.m., youngsters took part in events such as a Fun Run, Toddler Trot and Diaper Dash. There also was face painting and a number of craft or fun events presented by the participants of the “Riding of Ravensbridge” medieval encampment reenactors.

There was no Moonglow display of tethered balloons on Saturday or Sunday night at Simard-Payne Memorial Park.

“The pilots had some very wide flights Saturday,” 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 Saturday 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, its 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.

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 No. 1603, Liberty Festival, DeMolay and Kora Shrine.

Several bands played at Auburn’s Festival Plaza where Children’s Miracle Network and Walmart had a food concession.

On the park grounds and around the Twin Cities, the festival emphasized events of historical interest. Many people utilized a 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.

The options for fun were all over the place every day. 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 with the dummies used to show CPR technique.

Although she 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.