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Hot-air balloons to soar through the skies in Presque Isle as part of annual festival

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — One of the most anticipated events of the summer — the Crown of Maine Balloon Festival — is bringing 14 hot-air balloon pilots to central Aroostook County, along with the chance for people to take to the skies as they never have before.

The 16th annual Crown of Maine Balloon Festival, sponsored by the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, kicks off on Thursday, Aug. 22, at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds with a ribbon burning ceremony at 5 p.m., followed by a mass ascension of balloons, weather permitting, at 5:30 p.m.

Destination Unknown and pilot Mark Stodolski of Auburn, Mass., float into still skies at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds in Presque Isle at the 15th annual Crown of Maine Balloon Festival in 2018. The event drew 15 balloons, their pilots, families and crew to the area. (Staff Photo/Melissa Lizotte)

The Presque Isle Elks Club will host a street fair on Main Street in Presque Isle from 6 to 9 p.m. that evening, with entertainment from local band The Good Ole Boys and Gals.

Other mass ascensions of balloons will occur at the fairgrounds on Aug. 23 and 24 at 5:30 in the morning and evening and on Aug. 25 at 5:30 a.m. On the evenings of Aug. 23 and 24, there will be tethered balloon rides, for which the public can purchase tickets — $5 for children or $10 for adults — at 5 p.m. on a first-come-first-served basis.

Tethered rides occur at 6:30 p.m. on both days.

Regular balloon flights can be reserved for $200 per person. Members of the public will have a chance to meet the balloon pilots and their crews on Aug. 24 during a breakfast to be held 7-10 a.m. or a meet and greet 2:30-4 p.m. A special balloon glow will occur at dusk at the fairgrounds that evening.

Among the pilots returning to Aroostook County are Mark Fritz of Tallahassee, Florida, with his patriotic “Freedom Flye;,” Randy Lee of Four Oaks, North Carolina, with “Spellbound II;” Derik Smith of Presque Isle with “Queen of Hearts;” and Mark Stodolski of Auburn, Massachusetts, with “Destination Unknown.” New to this year’s festival is John Viner of North Muskham, United Kingdom, with his lifelike “Hyla the Frog.”

Festival co-chair Jordyn Madore said that approximately 80 volunteers are responsible for assisting balloon pilots during take-offs and landings. She noted that coming back to Aroostook County has been something the returning pilots look forward to every year.

“It’s a beautiful time of year and the rides give people a new chance to experience Aroostook County in all its glory,” Madore said. “Many pilots have said that our festival is their favorite to come to because of how friendly people are here.”

The festival includes many other activities throughout the weekend, such as a craft and food vendor fair 4-9 p.m. Aug. 23, and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Aug. 24, at The Forum, and children’s carnival games 1-4 p.m. Aug. 24, on the fairground fields. The indoor fair will feature 50 craft vendors and approximately a dozen food vendors located outside The Forum.

This year the children’s carnival, known as Fun on the Field, will include a walk-through balloon and Knockerball a game in which people enter giant inflatable balls and try to knock into one another. In the event of inclement weather, the games will take place at the Sargent Family Community Center.

Musical guests include Heath Bartleyat 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 23, and Low Talker at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 24. Saturday will feature karaoke from 7:30 to 9 p.m. All musical performances will occur on the stage behind the forestry building at the fairgrounds. The Chamber will host a movie, the 2019 version of Disney’s “Dumbo,” at 7:45 p.m. on Aug. 23 in the forestry building.

This year the Chamber is giving Presque Isle area residents the opportunity to participate in a city-wide yard sale during the festival on Aug. 24. Unlike the annual city-wide yard sale held in June, people do not have to register or include their address on a map. The yard sales begin at 8 a.m. that day.

Madore said she hopes that people come out to the balloon festival and take advantage of the variety of activities being offered, in addition to the popular balloon flights. Every year the festival brings an average of 8,000 to 10,000 local residents and tourists to Presque Isle.

“We try to offer new events every year,” Madore said. “We encourage people to come to the fairgrounds and check out everything that’s going on.”

For information or to register for a balloon flight, visit https://www.combf.org/.

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