LEWISTON — Four balloon launches were canceled at the 29th Great Falls Balloon Festival in Simard-Payne Memorial Park due to poor flying conditions Friday and Saturday. However, about half the balloon fleet inflated for takeoff Saturday morning and evening keeping smiles on the faces of kids and adults.

For the first time in several years, according to Lehigh Valley Hot Air co-owner Jerika Rathje, the festival featured tethered balloon rides which allowed folks to go up about 50 feet all while safely being attached to the ground.

“It’s been a number of years since they’ve had a tethered balloon here, so we’re really excited to be able to bring back that opportunity,” Rathje said.

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said going up in a balloon, even tethered, was an amazing experience and despite the disappointment of canceled launches, people were still having a great time.

Jason Provost does a last minute inspection of the Lil D balloon Saturday morning at the Great Falls Balloon Festival held in Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“It was pretty cool and the festival is a great time,” Sheline said. “If you’re 5 years old, it doesn’t matter. Kids were still having a great time … and, man, those balloons are larger than life.”

From games and concessions to a giant inflated balloon for kids to explore, the fact that no balloons had so far made it into the air did not seem to dampen the fun. Viola Grassi of Lewiston was in line for face painting and “walking her unicorn” during the afternoon when she recounted the festivities.


“I got to see the balloons this morning which was pretty cool,” Grassi said. “My favorite was the vampire.”

Several veteran and amateur photographers were getting their snaps in as balloons were inflating Saturday evening. Peter Miller of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, said he was in the area visiting his son when he decided to hit his first balloon festival.

“I love seeing them inflated. The people here are just being so friendly. It’s a super nice community activity. I just love coming up to Maine whenever I can. It’s the place to be. ”

Rowan and Conor Busler, 4 and 3, were checking out the straw on one of Smiley Scarecrow’s arms as he was being inflated when a blast of hot air from another balloon sent them scrambling for mom, Daniella Busler. Daniella, originally from Greene, has been to every Great Falls Balloon Festival except for a couple years when she was in college. In 2016, Daniella’s husband, Andrew, got them a ride in one of the balloons and proposed.

Participants watch the hot air balloons Saturday morning at the Great Falls Balloon Festival held in Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. The launch did not happen Saturday due to windy conditions several hundred feet above the ground. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“Now we bring our little bambinos here every year,” Daniella said. “From very early on, I told my husband all about the festival …. I had no idea he was proposing. I invited all of my family to my own proposal!”

Becky and Bob Morgan have lived in Auburn for 20 years and decided to come out for their third festival. Bob said he was enjoying the music and food and Becky, the general ambience.


“It seems to grow every year,” Becky said. “It’s great people-watching and it’s just fun to walk around.”

The evening launches go too late for the Morgans who said they would be home looking up to the sky to see if the launch goes ahead.

Officials called off the evening launch nearly an hour after scheduled launch time. Throughout Saturday afternoon, the Lehigh Valley Hot Air tent kept a red flag out signaling the grounding of balloons due to wind conditions. Rathje acknowledged the disappointment, but said safety is her company’s and festival organizers’ top priority.

“There are some storm systems about 40 miles out and I don’t think they’re coming in, but they’ve been bringing some downdrafts which are making it difficult for the balloons,” said Rathje. “If balloons don’t go up tonight, it would be disappointing, but we want to make sure people are safe.”

People cast shadows on the “I’ll Have Another” hot air balloon Saturday morning at the Great Falls Balloon Festival held in Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Alan Collins, Great Falls Balloon Festival logistics director, said the festival has drawn many large crowds over the past couple of days, but his money is on Sunday, Family Fun Day, being the most fun of all. Entertainment will include a costume contest and trick-or-treating as well as a 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. balloon launches, weather permitting, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of kids having fun. The bridge was packed for the parade, which was really nice. People should come out for Family Fun Day which will have a ton of great entertainment.”

Officials also called off the Moonglow show scheduled for dusk. Collins said a couple balloons were running low on fuel, so only the radio-controlled balloon would do a “small Moonglow.” The other balloons needed to refuel for a morning launch pilots seem determined to make happen, he said.

Rathje said Moonglow — a dusk event which shows balloons lit up in all their glory — is a sight to see.

“When the balloons are launching, they’re all leaving, so it’s great to see in the sky, but not great for photos. It’s nice when they’re all on the ground, a really nice experience for those on the ground.”

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