PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Rain and high winds dampened but did not put a stop to the sixth annual Crown of Maine Balloon Fest, which drew more than 2,500 people to the Northern Maine Fairgrounds on Saturday morning alone, organizers said.
“They filled the entire field,” said Derik Smith, one of the principal organizers of the event, which began Thursday and ended Sunday. “This place was packed with people up and down the street.”
The Saturday night launch of the 12 hot-air balloons that appeared at the fest was called off because of high winds, and the rainy weather turned back crowds that might have attended the Street Fair 2009. Vendors and performers closed downtown to traffic so participants could shop, dance, eat and play games.
On Sunday balloons launched from several locations, making crowd estimates difficult, Smith said.
Dena Wilson, a local balloonist, understood that the weather, not the organizers, was to blame for the Saturday cancellation. People paid $180 for a single balloon ride, first come, first served, unless other arrangements were made.
“They just want enough wind to get you where you want to be and not so much that you have a crash-and-drag landing,” Wilson said Saturday with a laugh. “The preferred term is ‘high wind landing,’ but that’s not the term I use.”
The winds were not especially pronounced on the ground, but the low, gray clouds overhead moved steadily across the sky, a sign that pilots would have to do an awful lot of crashing and dragging to keep themselves from going places they didn’t want to be.
Hosted by the Presque Isle Area Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by KeyBank, the Presque Isle fest also offered an amateur photo contest, with participants submitting pictures they took during the 2008 festival for judging. Entries may be submitted to the PIACC.
Benefit suppers, artistic events, fundraisers to benefit children bereaved by the loss of parents, and musical performances also occurred, as did a citywide yard sale.
But the biggest draw, Smith said, is always the balloons.
“This morning was a great flight,” Smith said Saturday. “The balloons were spectacular.”