PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – The Crown of Maine Balloon Fest will make its 19th annual return flight to Près Isle with 12 hot air balloons.
The event will run from Thursday, August 25 through Sunday, August 28 at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds.
The festival typically draws 4,000 to 8,000 visitors to Près Isle, organizers said, a boon to Aroostook County. Statewide hospitality is off to a strong start this season after the economic impact of tourism grew 61% last year thanks to an easing of pandemic restrictions. The family event aligns with the county’s continued desire to attract more families and young people.
Over the years, the Hot Air Balloon Festival added food, crafts, games, movies and live music to appeal to all ages. Vendors from all over Maine will be setting up on the fairgrounds, and hot air balloon passengers from 12 states have already registered, said Jordyn Madore, co-chair of the event.
“These are just the people who signed up to attend, so it’s clear people are coming to our beautiful county for a fun new experience,” Madore said.
Madore’s favorite moments are the massive climbs, when people can see the huge balloons rising up close.
“The looks on the faces of passengers who have never flown before are also invaluable,” she said.
Others enjoy the nighttime glow, when pilots light up the balloons from within, while others are addicted to the thrill of the hunt – and enjoy joining the volunteer effort to work with pilots as members. of the ground crew.
Jill Willette from Almost Isle is one of them. She and her husband, Jeff, their sons Noah, 16, and Jase, 8, and her mother, Lori Thibodeau, worked on balloon crews for five years.
It all started with Noah. He would get up at 5 a.m. to visit Bruce and Dolores Roope, longtime friends of pilot Wendell Purvis, a festival devotee who often stays at the Roopes’ home on Près Isle. Noah’s fascination with balloons was contagious, and now the family are regulars.
“I can’t think of a more family-friendly event than the hot air balloon festival,” she said.
Part of what keeps them involved are the bonds that develop with the riders, who become like family, Willette said.
While her husband is impressed with the physics of flight and the skills of the pilots, Jase, 8, likes to help pack the balloon and looks forward to breakfast afterwards, she said.
Nearly 50 people have signed up to help the flight crews, said Pam Sutherland, who coordinates the volunteers. About five people are needed per balloon.
After unpacking, the crews place the ball on the field. While some manipulate guide ropes, others hold the base of the balloon open during inflation, requiring care and not to interfere with the flame, Sutherland said.
As the balloon begins to rise, crew members must maintain a steady weight on the lines to ensure it rises in a controlled manner. When people have boarded and the pilot waves, the crew lets go. Then comes the chase to where the ball lands and everyone steps in to put it away again.
It has been an addictive quest for Sutherland.
“We become like family, if you’re as lucky as I am to have a driver like Wendell Purvis, who’s been coming to the festival for as long as I’ve been part of the crew – which I think is around 14 years,” she said. . “I have wonderful memories of flying with Wendell and seeing our beautiful Almost Isle from above.”
The festival kicks off Thursday, August 25 with opening ceremonies at 5 p.m. Massive climbs, weather permitting, are scheduled for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 5:30 a.m. from the fairgrounds.
A Ride for a Cure ATV Ride will depart from the fairgrounds at 9am, hosted by Team Click for a Cure.
Music will include local favorites Wally and the Virginian Thursday at 4 p.m. and Star City Syndicate Friday at 4 p.m.
The festival’s new title sponsor, Thompson Financial Group, will feature family fun activities Saturday from 1-4 p.m. and The Great TFG Balloon Chase 5K race Sunday starting at 6:15 a.m. Other sponsors include approximately 25 local businesses and service groups.
The pilots had booked all of their available flights as of August 4, organizers said.
For a full schedule of events, visit Crown of Maine Balloon Fest’s Facebook page.