LEWISTON, Maine — Pilot Bill Colyer said he can’t remember better balloon launch weather.
“It’s absolutely perfect,” said Colyer, pilot for the Last Penny balloon. “It’s the right temperature for the balloon. There’s no wind at ground level but just a little bit up above. It’s a good clear day with great visibility. I couldn’t ask for any more.”
The Great Falls Balloon Festival kicked off Friday morning with the first of six scheduled balloon launches this weekend out of Lewiston’s Simard-Payne Park.
The first balloon left the ground at 6:14 a.m. and last went airborne at 6:43 a.m.
The second balloon launch of the event was scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday. Balloon launches are scheduled at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday as well.
And this year, the scheduled launches might all get used. Rainy weather has kept balloons grounded for at least one launch in the last few years. But this weekend’s forecast calls for calm weather and blue skies. Friday morning’s dawn saw 51 degree temperatures and calm winds.
“It might be the best weekend, weather-wise, that we’ve seen in many years here,” said Colyer, who has been coming to the Twin Cities for the festival since it began 21 years ago. “And for this year, without a doubt, it’s the best weather we’ve seen so far.”
Mell Hamlyn, treasurer for the Great Falls Balloon Festival organizing committee, said the forecast just might help attendance this year.
“People do watch the weather forecast before they decide if they’re going to come, and then they make their plans,” Hamlyn said. “If it’s nice all weekend, there’s more of a chance that they’ll come a couple, three times.”
Hundreds of spectators milled around the park Friday morning, cameras and coffee cups at the ready, as the balloons unloaded and filled with air and went airborne. Many lined the pedestrian bridge between Auburn and Lewiston as the wind carried them south over the river, New Auburn and toward Durham.
Jodi Cullen of Morris County, N.J., said she and her family timed a visit with the family so they could attend the festival.
“We came years ago when my kids were smaller,” Cullen said. “We really came for this, but we missed our family, too.”
Debbie Belair of Stratford, N.H., brought her grandchildren up to Maine just for the event.
“We’ve never been, but we went to another balloon event with my oldest grandson,” she said. “We had so much fun, we looked for something when my youngest grandson turned 3. So we stayed overnight in Portland, and we’ve just had a great time.”
The festival runs throughout the weekend. Museum L/A, at 35 Canal St., opens at 10 a.m.
Food booths at Simard-Payne Park and Auburn’s Festival Plaza begin serving at 4 p.m., with music acts, a carnival and vendor booths running throughout the evening.
They continue Saturday and Sunday.