Organizers hope Champaign County Balloon Festival will become a ‘regular event’ | Local News

CHAMPAIGN — John McDaniel was at the WKCI Hot Air Balloon Meet in 1982, watching a balloon drift upwards at an event for children with special needs, when a brief moment left a lasting impression.

“The basket flipped over and I saw the look on the kid’s face, and he had tears in his eyes,” said McDaniel, who hosted the event for 10 years with his wife. , Joyce. “I thought, ‘This is the ultimate. It’s really, really exceptional.

The impression was so lasting that McDaniel knew he wanted to host a similar event when he moved to Champaign. Five years after pitching the idea to fellow organizer Chris Diana, he will finally realize that goal this weekend, when 15 balloonists from seven states descend on Dodds Park for the Champaign County Balloon Festival.

Getting to this point, however, was not a quick or easy process.

A plan for the event to take place in 2019 at Frasca Field was all but set, but scheduling conflicts forced McDaniel, Diana and Brandon Tipsword, who hosted the festival as a trio, to push their plans until 2020. By then, of course, major rallies have been postponed and canceled across the board.

“For almost three years, we kind of had to keep it on the back burner, but keep it warm,” Diana said. “What we really had to do was keep this as a continuation effort, to stay in touch with our sponsors who were in the fold and that sort of thing.”

This year, with only a few months to prepare, McDaniel, Diana and Tipsword finally decided to organize the event. Doors will open at 4 p.m. Friday, when the two-day festival kicks off with carnival rides, food vendors and a children’s tent which will include face painting, balloon twisting, games and a bicycle giveaway .

Weather permitting, the balloons will be launched at 5 p.m., when the general public can pay $20 to take a tethered balloon ride. Children with disabilities will be able to travel free if scheduled in advance with OSF HealthCare Foundation representatives John Kelley ([email protected] or 217-337-4707), or Angie Lazzell (angela. [email protected] or 217-337-4713).

The balloons will then light up for a balloon glow at 7 p.m. The hot air balloon events will take place at the same times on Saturday, with doors opening at 10 a.m. for the other activities.

Admission will be free for children 12 and under accompanied by a paying adult and $10 for everyone else. Money raised will benefit AMBUCS, Crisis Nursery, Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation and Cunningham Children’s Home. The organizing team is always looking for volunteers to work two-hour shifts, McDaniel said.

“We really hope people have a great time there and it will make them think, ‘Hey, I can’t wait to come back next year,'” Diana said. “We would like this to be a regular Champaign-Urbana event that people have on their calendars where it’s like, ‘Hey, it’s fall. It’s closer to the Hot Air Balloon Festival.’”