LEWISTON — Word spread quickly Wednesday that the organizers of the 2024 Great Falls Balloon Festival had canceled the event this summer. But by the afternoon, there were signs that the festival may not be grounded after all.

Apparently, hope really does float.

City officials are submitting a proposal to the festival board that would help organizers with logistics, operations and other needs in an attempt to save this year’s event.

The festival board on Wednesday morning announced they were canceling the August event due to a “series of challenges and unforeseen circumstances,” which led to a massive response on social media.

By the afternoon, according to city administration and staff, the city had asked the festival board if they’d be willing to discuss partnering with the city this year.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, the GFBF board had not received a proposal from the city, Tracy Collins, president of the festival’s board of directors, said in a text. Further questions to the board were not answered before press time.


Nate Libby, assistant economic development director, said the board was open to the conversation and plans to consider the proposal.

“We’ve drafted a proposal for what that set of services would look like to make sure this event goes off this year,” he said. “We plan to transmit that to them today and hopefully have a conversation with the board in the next day or two.”

Acting City Administrator Brian O’Malley was informed Tuesday by the event organizers that the board would be issuing a press release about the cancellation. Libby said the city tried to reach out to organizers Tuesday to discuss the issues and “come up with an alternative plan” rather than cancel, but were unable to connect before a press release went out from the festival board Wednesday morning.

After the release went out, Libby said the city asked the board if it could help with logistics, operations and administrative functions “to help get this event off the ground.”

“Obviously this is a passion project for many of them, so announcing a cancellation is a hard thing to do,” Libby said. “We want to work with them in good faith to see if we can support them in running a great event. This is an iconic event for Lewiston.”

News of the cancellation prompted many to air their disappointment and frustration across many social media posts.


“We all need to protest,” said Lewiston native Shauna Leigh of Wells. “This isn’t right at all.”

“I drive from Caribou every year since moving from Lewiston just to enjoy this festival. Genuinely heartbroken,” said Travis TJ Thibeault.

Some urged more people to come out and volunteer while others, though disappointed, applauded GFBF for not pushing through an event with questionable safety and more work than limited volunteers can manage.

“(If) they can’t get what they need for volunteers, sponsors, security, and bathrooms, everyone would be here complaining about how awful it was,” Auburn resident April Dawn said in a comment. “I’m glad they could make a difficult decision to regroup and work on making it better next year. I’m sure the community will support them just as much in 2025.”

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.

The event typically attracts 100,000 people over a three-day weekend, and the economic impact to the cities is estimated to be in excess of $2 million annually. It’s also usually a significant fundraising opportunity for local nonprofits.


“This a big deal for the city and the community,” Libby said. “It’s important that on the 30th anniversary and especially in light of what happened over the last six months in Lewiston, that folks in this community and all across Maine have the opportunity to come together (and) attend this event.”

It’s unclear what sort of additional funding or resources would be needed from the city to make the festival continue.

Collins, president of the festival’s board, said in the Wednesday morning press release that the festival faced several obstacles this year, including fewer sponsors, a lack of volunteers and planning difficulties ranging from procuring security to reserving portable toilets.

City Council President Scott Harriman said he’s hoping the city’s proposal to “provide extra support” can ensure the balloon festival can still go forward this year.

“We recognize how important this event is not only to the fundraising efforts of many nonprofits but also to the general public,” he said. “The balloon festival is one of Lewiston’s signature summer events, and the city is committed to making this year’s as spectacular as ever.”

Mayor Carl Sheline said the balloon festival “stands as a crucial economic driver, benefiting not only our city but also numerous nonprofits that depend on it as a key funding source.”


“This event is a fantastic opportunity for families to come together and enjoy a wonderful time,” he said. “Integral to the fabric of Lewiston, the festival embodies our community spirit and traditions, which we must steadfastly preserve.”

Earlier in the day Wednesday, officials reacted to the announcement with a mix of disappointment and hope for next year.

Shanna Cox, president of the LA Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said the balloon festival is “a hallmark event for our whole region” that provides economic impact to lodging, restaurants, gas stations, corner stores and more.

“The business community and sponsors understand this, and I trust they will continue to commit to creative paths forward that keeps this event secured in our area,” she said. “We also recognize that this is an opportunity for local nonprofits to earn funds from food and activities that deeply impact their mission-driven work each year. I have faith in our community’s resilience and determination to find a way, as there is no doubt to the amount of will we hold, together.”

Earlier in the day, Councilor Josh Nagine said he was disappointed, but understands “the challenges that the board is faced with and am empathetic to the changing dynamics of funding, volunteer participation and overall logistical hurdles the event is faced with.”

“I’m hoping that we can have conversations in the near future around the challenges the balloon festival is experiencing and possibly provide some supports to the organizers to make the event more robust,” he said.

Nagine said the community needs events like the balloon festival “now more than ever.”

“It’s the people in our community who make these events happen, and without a large volunteer base, support from area businesses, and support from the city and residents, they fade into memory,” he said. “I certainly hope that’s not the case with the balloon festival.”

Staff writer Joe Charpentier contributed to this report.

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