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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — With such names as Raspberry Ripple, B Happy, WindSpirit, Freedom Flyer, Tracer, Sinbad and Queen of Hearts, 10 hot air balloons are expected to fill the skies in the coming days as part of the 10th annual Crown of Maine Balloon Fest.
Hosted by the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce and the Mapleton Lions Club, Balloon Fest will be held Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 22-25, at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds in Presque Isle.
“We expect to have 10 hot air balloons flying in this year’s festival,” said Floyd Rockholt, Balloon Fest chair. “Many of the pilots have flown here for several years, and they love flying here; it’s one of their best areas to fly in.
“They love the scenery, plus in a lot of places, when you land you have to land in specific areas,” he said. “Here we have a lot of open fields so they can land in most areas. They’re not very limited.”
Festival-goers will once again have the opportunity to take a tethered balloon ride.
“Last year was the first year we did tethered rides, and we’re bringing that back. Those were extremely popular,” said Rockholt. “Tethered rides are a great way for people to get a feel of a balloon ride without actually spending a lot of money on an actual ride.
“You do go up for a little bit in a balloon but you’re attached to a rope and the balloon doesn’t float free,” he said. “It gives you a chance to experience what it’s like to lift off in one of the balloons. We’re going to sell tickets this year so we can get them done sooner. That way we don’t have a pilot there until 10 p.m. doing tethered rides. Tickets will be for sale at the field, but since they’re limited, people should plan accordingly.”
Tethered rides will be given — weather permitting — at 5 p.m. both Friday and Saturday. Sponsored by Irving Woodlands LLC, tickets will be limited to 150, on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost is $10 for people ages 12 and up, and $5 for children under 12.
While the hot air balloons are the focal point of the festival, the event has grown over the years. This year’s Balloon Fest will feature music, artisans, food, races, a street fair, children’s activities and more.
“The thing about balloons is they can only launch two times a day — early in the morning and in the evening, so the other fun events planned give something to fill in when the balloons aren’t in the air,” said Rockholt, noting that balloons are very weather dependent. “You might think it’s a nice breeze, but for a hot air balloon it might not be so nice. For example, pilots need to have the balloon steady when they ignite the burner otherwise they could burn the balloon. In order to launch, you need to have no rain, plus the right wind conditions.
“Creating a festival with lots of things to do not only fills in around the balloon launches, but it also brings more people to Presque Isle,” he said. “I know of people who come from other states just to attend our festival. While they’re here they may do some shopping or eat or buy gas, so that’s money that’s being put back into the community.”
Rockholt encourages people from throughout The County and western New Brunswick to attend this year’s Balloon Fest.
“I think people love seeing them go up into the air; they’re so peaceful … they just float. It’s a beautiful sight to see the balloons up in the air; especially with all the different colors,” he said. “Balloon Fest is always a great time. We have the band Tallahassee performing and there are lots of things for children and families to do. It’s sure to be a fun time.”
Launches will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as well as 5:30 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There also will be balloon glows Friday and Saturday nights. For a balloon glow, the pilots set up their balloons at dusk and use the burners for illumination so it glows.
The field will be “fenced off” to spectators giving the balloons and crews the space they need to prepare for the flights.
Some pilots take paying passengers during their flights. Those wishing to make arrangements for a flight should contact the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce at 764-6561. Chamber officials also are looking for volunteers to help with registration, sell calendars and pins and assist with the vendor fair and Youth Day activities.
For a complete schedule of events, visit www.crownofmaineballoonfest.org or call the chamber office.