Balloons from the Sunday morning launch of the Great Falls Balloon Festival dip into the Androscoggin River. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — As the Great Falls Balloon Festival began to wind down after a weekend of high attendance, the heat pressed down upon the city.

Attendees bore the high temperature though, gathering at Simard-Payne Memorial Park on the final day, hopeful for one last hot air balloon launch.

The weather had other plans. The wind Sunday evening proved too much for the balloons, prompting the pilots to call it off.

The morning balloon launch hours earlier went off without a hitch, however. Attendees swarmed the park to catch a glimpse and snap pictures of the colorful aircrafts taking flight in the early morning, leading the exodus as recovery crews and spectators followed them to their landing sites.

Many returning balloon pilots, as well as new ones, led the launches, a fact which the Great Falls Balloon Festival’s board of directors hopes to foster for future events.

“The pilots have been wicked excited for the flights and they had a great time and are really enjoying the festival,” said Ben Weisner, balloonmeister for the festival. “It’s a totally different area from what they’re (used to) … it’s just unique.”



A feature of the festival almost as popular as the balloons themselves: the blooming onion at the Festivals of Maine stand.

Owner Nel Morin estimated that close to 600 were sold by midday Sunday. Not bad considering it’s the first year that he’s worked the festival as a food vendor.

“I started making blooming onions two years ago at the Fryeburg Fair with my business. I’ve used it as a fundraiser for a couple of events that I do,” said Morin. “It’s been very good, we’ve had a very good week so far. Without a doubt there’s been a lot of lines; we were backed up by 20 orders yesterday. Blooming is nothing that you can get at a restaurant that often and it’s hard to make at home. It’s more a luxury item that you don’t see that often.”

Morin also credited the accompanying sauces for helping the blooming onion, well, bloom.

All vendors at the fair were present to raise money for local nonprofit organizations, some of which appeared at the festival to connect with the community. One such organization was Tri-County Mental Health Services, who perched their tent close to the Androscoggin River to promote their Inspired Voices concert event, where artists from their agency who have struggled with mental health, substance abuse and intellectual and developmental disabilities sing, perform music, dance and recite poetry.

“It’s been wonderful, we’ve been busy all day,” said Leslie Ogilvie, manager of grants and communications. “It’s been good to be back. It brings such great community and business to Lewiston and Auburn, and to grow our community, which is so important and getting everyone together after two years apart.”

“(The festival) is good for the community, it helps our nonprofits. This is a big fundraiser for them. It brings diversity and people together and momentarily makes all of the issues of the world go away,” said Colleen Landry, volunteer director of the Great Falls Balloon Festival.

“It feels great (to be back),” said Josh Moreau of Lewiston. “It’s nice to see everyone here. Yesterday, when it was packed, there was a sense of community here. This festival was built on such a (rich) heritage of the French that we rely on and grew up here with, that’s who really installed roots and you can see the generations that have taken over have really taken that in stride as well.”

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