The sound of the rushing air disturbed the quiet dawn. The sun began to peek above the horizon to melt the dew covering the grassy hills. Groups of families wrapped in blankets and sipping hot chocolate watched in awe as the first hot air balloon began to lift off the ground.
For over thirty years, individuals have flocked to Tymor Park to experience the tranquility of the Hudson Valley Balloon Festival. This year, fifteen balloonists launched their hot air balloons at dawn over Union Vale, New York. Throughout Labor Day weekend, colorful balloons dotted the sky. The balloons had all the patterns, resembling a rainbow or having the shape of a tuxedo.
What began as a chosen day when balloonists simply launch their flights at a coordinated time has grown into a festival that welcomes 25,000 guests each year. Customers can purchase a full hot air balloon flight for approximately three hours in the air. However, due to the limited number of balloons capable of flight, tethered hot air balloon flights, rising in the air for about twenty minutes, are exceptionally popular.
Evelyn Milburn ’24 attended the hot air balloon festival for the first time this year. She had always dreamed of flying in a hot air balloon. After waking up at 4 a.m. to get to the festival before it started at 6 a.m., she was so glad she had sacrificed her sleep for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. She was able to experience ballooning with a tethered balloon ride, after queuing with hundreds of other guests.
“It was like… floating. That’s the only way I can describe it; we were just floating,” Milburn said. “And it was the best feeling in the world.”
She loved talking with aeronaut Scott Griswold, who was piloting the hot air balloon captive. Griswold admitted he never got tired of hot air ballooning. His father owned hot air balloons while Griswold was growing up. When his father died, Griswold’s brother taught him how to fly a hot air balloon. The brothers eventually started their own company, Above All Balloon Rides.
Caitlin Whitting ’24 was also thrilled with her decision to attend the hot air balloon festival. His parents have participated in it in the past and have been delighted with it ever since.
“I never realized how huge hot air balloons were until I stood right next to one,” Whitting said. “Watching people fly around in a basket supported by a gigantic balloon was a sight straight out of a movie.”
Hot air balloons could only take off between 6:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. or between 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Hot air balloons cannot be launched until early morning or later in the evening due to the strength of the sun. The Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, the organization in charge of the event each year, also warns that all balloon launches are dependent on calm weather.
For guests like Whitting who preferred to watch the balloons from the ground, the festival offered dozens of pop-up tents full of tapestries and homemade honey that guests could peruse while waiting for the balloons to launch. The cart with the longest queue was the Donuts for Days pop-up, as it was the perfect snack for early attendees. In the cool morning air, guests were able to purchase warm cinnamon donuts, hot chocolate and coffee.
There was never a dull moment. The festival even offered sunrise yoga for guests to relax while watching hot air balloons soar. Over the speakers, radio station WRWD Country 107.3 played music to energize the crowd. Host Chris Marino was at the festival all weekend, so he wasted no time in greeting the pilots and returning guests. Each evening, the festival also set off fireworks to highlight the night sky filled with hot air balloons and held lawn games like giant chess for families to play.
“It’s a community at the end of the day,” Milburn said. “A hot air balloon festival is a niche activity. I think people like to escape the monotony of their lives by exploring special or unique interests.