Balloon fest still a blast despite winds

7 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Open spaces and welcoming landowners are among the reasons hot-air balloon pilots say they love flying in The County, and though some launches were canceled due to wind conditions there were plenty of chances to fly local skies. 

This past weekend’s 14th annual Crown of Maine Balloon Fest celebrated all things ballooning.

Headquartered at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds, the festival kept crowds busy with vendors, food, live music, tethered balloon rides, activities and games for kids — and, of course, the ever popular dusk balloon glows.

On Thursday, area queens attended the festival kick-off ceremony at the fairgrounds to brave the flames of a balloon burner for the traditional ribbon burning that heralds the festival’s start.

Though high winds that evening kept the balloons grounded, that did not stop hundreds of folks from enjoying the annual street fair, spearheaded by the Presque Isle Elks Lodge. Organizers blocked off a section of Main Street for folks to celebrate with games, food and entertainment.

The sounds of AC/DC tribute band Powerage kept the evening’s energy levels on high as kids played games, parents chowed down on burgers and newcomers had the opportunity to be part of what’s become one of The County’s last hurrahs before fall comes creeping in.

“We attract hundreds of people who have never been to Aroostook County or Presque Isle, Caribou or any of those places before,” said Chamber Director Theresa Fowler. “It’s a real community festival, we’ve got so many groups that are involved in the operation and activities this weekend. The pilots love flying here, the people are welcoming and warm, they have great landing opportunities and I think they would come even if we didn’t have a festival.”

What makes The County special for flying and the reason why pilots return each year is because of its low number of “red zones,” or areas where pilots cannot land, said pilot coordinator Megan Stanley.

The crew from Bridgewater’s All Star Gymnastics show off their agility during the 14th annual Crown of Maine Balloon Fest street fair Thursday evening. (Joshua Archer)

“There are lots of open spaces and we don’t have a lot of ‘red zones.’ We don’t have any landowners that have stated that we can’t use their land [for landing], which is awesome and I think that’s a big draw for pilots. They can fly for quite a while without worrying about any obstacles,” Stanley said.

The balloon festival brings folks outside to enjoy some of the final warm days of summer and look up in awe of floating colorful balloons that travel silently overhead.

“I think it’s really important to support local events and local businesses and a lot of local businesses are sponsors of this event and it’s also a great way to get out and meet people, see something different, try something different, and for a lot of people, being around these balloons is a once in a lifetime event, so it’s really cool that in such a small area we have an event like this every year,” Stanley said.

During the festival’s flights, passengers had the experience of a lifetime as they enjoyed the sights of Presque Isle from up above.

“The pilots say it’s one of the most beautiful places they’ve ever flown,” Fowler said.

For folks not able to go for a balloon ride, tethered rides were available at the fairgrounds Friday and Saturday.

The high winds were back Saturday morning forcing pilots to cancel the early flights. But the rest of the day’s weather proved to be beautiful for the games and activities held around town and at the fairgrounds.

MORNING FLIGHT — Destination Unknown, piloted by Mark Stodolski of Auburn, Mass., floats over Presque Isle early Friday morning. Still skies allowed pilots to launch their hot-air balloons from the Northern Maine Fairgrounds on the first full day of the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest.
(Staff Photo/Paula Brewer)

Saturday evening balloons did make it into the air, but not at the fairgrounds. On social media the balloon fest announced flights would happen at various locations around town.

At dusk the balloons were back at the fairgrounds for the traditional balloon glow, lighting up the night with bursts of flames and fading colors.

Come Sunday morning, after a brief meeting at the fairgrounds, pilots and passengers scattered to separate locations for the early launch, but once in the air all drifted with the winds lining up above the southern horizon.