Crown of Maine Balloon Fest floats into its 20th anniversary

10 months ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Fourteen balloons sailed over the Aroostook River Saturday after launching from Johnson Road in Presque Isle.

As the sun was on its descent, the balloon pilots landed in between the vegetable fields along Route 1.

The Crown of Maine Balloon Fest draws in people not only from Maine but also from states across the country like Texas, Utah and Ohio, said Jordyn Madore, who was co-chair for the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest for four years and served on the festival’s committee for seven years. This is the festival’s 20th anniversary.

Balloon crew for Celtic Magic (left) and Manifesto (right) inflate their balloons for takeoff on Thursday, Aug. 25, at Johnson Road for the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest in Presque Isle. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

“Presque Isle — as everyone knows — is a little isolated from the rest of the world, and when an activity like hot air ballooning comes up here it’s good for the local community,” said Mike Lavoie, pilot of the balloons Schmedley and Cat Sass from West Ossipee, New Hampshire.

The crew for Spellbound Spirit III inflates their balloon in the field off Johnson Road in preparation for takeoff during the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest in Presque Isle. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

On Thursday, Aug. 24, he flew Cat Sass in the early morning and then in the evening flew Schmedley during the first day of the Balloon Fest.

Lavoie has been on the road since late June and won’t return home until early November. He has been coming up to the Balloon Fest for the last three years. In 2021, Lavoie was voted pilot of the year.

Spellbound Spirit III piloted by Randy Lee about to take off in the field on Johnson Road during the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest on Aug. 24 in Presque Isle. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

A few pilots flew over Presque Isle on the morning of Aug. 24, with the ribbon burning taking place at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds done by last year’s pilot of the year Randy Lee with Spellbound Spirit III from Four Oaks, North Carolina.

New pilots to this year’s Balloon Fest were Richard Piendel flying Blaser Swisslube from Annville, Pennsylvania, and Michael Olin flying Heaven Sent from Warner, New Hampshire.

Pilots Seth Bailey with Czech Mate from Nova Scotia and John Viner with Master Zaba from Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom, returned to this year’s Crown of Maine Balloon Fest after a few years away.

Balloons fly over Presque Isle toward Route 1 on Aug. 24 during the evening of the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

On Friday, Aug. 25, some events were canceled due to the rainy weather but the food and craft vendors were still open. Among those, Wally and the Virginian set up inside the long tan metal building where the craft venders were located at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds.

Everyone is hopeful that the rest of the balloon fest staples like the Dusk Balloon Glow will happen on Saturday, Aug. 26, and the rest of the morning and dusk launches happen on Sunday, Aug. 27, Madore said.

Manifesto piloted by Michael DePew flies over the Johnson Rd. after take off for the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest in Presque Isle on Thursday, Aug. 24. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

Later on, the ticket sales for the Dusk Balloon Glow were announced as the weather broke to calmer skies.

This year Michael DePew of Nashua, New Hampshire, flew for the second time in the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest. He has been piloting balloons for 10 years. He piloted the balloon Manifesto this year.

Celtic Magic piloted by Bob Martel about to take off from the field off Johnson Rd. during the first day for Crown of Maine Balloon Fest in Presque Isle on Aug. 24. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

Manifesto was the first to take off from the open field on Johnson Road on Thursday, Aug. 24. He flew in low over the other balloons being inflated and popped up high over the Aroostook River.

“[Presque Isle] is like the Kansas of New England,” DePew said.

Balloons fly over Presque Isle toward the landing zone at Route 1 on Aug. 24 during the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

DePew’s family has been piloting balloons since the late 1970s. DePew got his piloting license for balloons from Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2013.

“It’s a very beautiful area to fly in, over town or out in the countryside either way they’re all beautiful,” said Marian Deeney, pilot for the Hemisphere Dancer from Monticello, Florida.

Deeney has been coming to the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest for almost a decade. The Mainers have become like a second family to Deeney’s family, she said.

Tracer piloted by Wendell Purvis controls their altitude over the farm fields in Presque Isle during the evening of the first day for the Crown of Maine Balloon Festival on Aug. 24. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

Deeney flew on the early morning and evening of the Balloon Fest on Thursday, Aug. 24.

“It’s just a gorgeous area, friendly people and it makes you want to come back,” Deeney said.

Last year’s balloon pilot of the year Randy Lee (middle-left) for Spellbound Spirit III does the honor of burning the ribbon at the 20th anniversary of the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest in Presque Isle on Aug. 24. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

The Crown of Maine Balloon Fest is part of an unofficial festival circuit, with Lewiston having its Great Falls Balloon Festival last week. After leaving Presque Isle, the pilots went across the border to Bath, New Brunswick, and ended the circuit in Sussex, New Brunswick, Madore said.

“I came up here quite often in the late 1970s and early 1980s and it’s nice to come back and fly here,” Lavoie said.

Holocron piloted by Luke Van Camp (right) takes off next to Tracer piloted by Wendell Purvis (left) in the field next to Johnson Road in Presque Isle during the first day of the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest on Aug. 24. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)