LEWISTON — There will be no Great Falls Balloon Festival this year. According to a statement issued Wednesday morning, festival organizers hope to bring this popular community event back in 2025.

The decision to cancel the August event, which was supported by all of the festival’s directors except for one abstention, was due to a “series of challenges and unforeseen circumstances,” according to the board statement.

“The board has diligently worked on putting this event on and did not come to this decision lightly,” Tracy Collins, president of the festival’s board of directors, wrote in an email. “The GFBF held a special meeting … and after shedding some tears for our community and nonprofits, decided to take a break and rebuild our foundation.”

After the 2023 event, the board reconvened in September to start planning for the 2024 festival and met myriad obstacles, including fewer sponsors, a lack of volunteers and planning difficulties ranging from procuring security to reserving portable toilets.

Collins said the issues, hard enough for a full 15-person board to navigate, proved too difficult for a relatively young board at about half its normal size.

“It’s still a lot to put on with just a skeleton crew,” Collins said. “The security team that usually works with us … is just not available. We were going to have to find a new avenue for that … It’s a huge crowd. Some of the balloons that we had contracted with for this year were massive balloons, too. It takes a lot of moving bodies to make sure everything’s safe … and you really have to be proactive in getting everything lined up before someone else does.”


The Great Falls Balloon Festival was first launched in 1992 as an event designed to showcase the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, but also to serve as a fundraising opportunity for local nonprofit organizations, including area schools and civic organizations. According to festival organizers, the nonprofits that take part in the event raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in food and other sales, and the economic impact to the cities is estimated to be in excess of $2 million annually.

The festival is held the third weekend in August in Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston, with early morning and early evening launches Friday, Saturday and Sunday as weather allows. In between launches the festival features live music and other entertainment, children’s activities and an opportunity for vendors to open shop, often selling balloon-themed goods.

Vendors and nonprofits that rely on the event for funding have been notified of the news, Collins said, and responses have been supportive. Sponsors, which have also been notified and expressed their support, will receive their money back and the board expressed hope that these sponsors will be involved for the 2025 festival.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Collins said, “And there’s no way we’re trying to disappoint the community … However, (we) feel it is best to take the time to gather our bearings, and place our energy on refocusing, so we can come back better than before!”

While the event is supported by local businesses and sponsors, it is an all-volunteer event to organize, in cooperation with the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, including tens of thousands of dollars of in-kind contributions for policing and public works services. According to the festival’s site, it has gained a national reputation over the years as “a first-class event and is a destination for many visitors to the state of Maine.”

The festival has principally been based at Simard-Payne Memorial Park, but there are also activities held at Festival Plaza in Auburn and there have been launches from other sites around the Twin Cities over the years.


Last year, the festival attracted 25 balloons. In 2022, after two years off due to the pandemic, 14 balloons participated in the festival, an event that typically draws about 100,000 people through the weekend.

The free festival has seen its share of weather frustrations over the years, with rain, wind or low cloud cover either postponing or forcing cancellation of launches, which affects the number of paid rides pilots are able to provide and keeps visitors away.

It has also seen some financial struggles.

In 2019, the festival board was reorganized after longtime board president and treasurer Mel Hamlyn stepped away to spend more time with her family. At the time, she said she had intended the 2018 festival to be her last as organizer, but it also came at time when the festival was under scrutiny for operating without tax-exempt status.

According to Sun Journal archives, the Internal Revenue Service had pulled the festival’s tax-exempt status five years earlier, in 2013, for failing to file required paperwork for the previous three years. At the time, according to the IRS, it hadn’t received any filings from the festival since 2009.

At the same time, someone connected with the festival raised concerns about its management, prompting Lewiston city officials to examine the festival’s finances and to ultimately make recommendations for ways the festival board could better document procedures, deal with bank reconciliation and better capture information on balloon launch tickets. Three of the festival’s five board members abruptly quit, two worried over the same management issues, including late payments to vendors and entertainers.


As the city studied the festival’s business practices, the public also learned that the state had dissolved the festival’s nonprofit status three times between 2005 and 2018. The first two times, in 2005 and 2014, the group had failed to file its annual report. The last dissolution occurred between Sept. 10, 2015, and March 6, 2017, for failing to update its contact information with the state. That means the group was not registered as a nonprofit with the state during the 2016 balloon fest.

A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office said at the time that it’s not unusual for groups to lose and regain their registration, but they’re not supposed to do business in Maine without it.

According to Maine’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions, The Great Falls Balloon Festival, Inc. failed to file an annual report in June of 2019, but filed it on July 2 shortly after it received notice. In June the following year a notice of failure to file an annual report was sent and the nonprofit was administratively dissolved in September 2020 for failing to file that report.

There were no festivals held in 2020 and 2021; the festival returned in 2022.

In May 2023, the nonprofit’s corporation status was reinstated when a required annual report was filed.

Sun Journal Staff Writer Judith Meyer contributed to this report.

This story will be updated.

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