Amelia Nelson was 6 the last time she and her family went to the Casper Balloon Roundup Festival. This Friday, after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the balloons and the now 8-year-old returned.
“I think it’s just amazing,” she said.
The roundup began in 2005 and for 15 years balloon pilots from all over the country have come to Casper to fly over the prairie. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, health and safety concerns forced organizers to cancel the festival.
This summer, it’s back.
“It was really exciting,” said Jason DeWitt, president of the Casper Area Chamber of Commerce. “I got a call from Shelly Springer from the Casper Children’s Center, who sponsored the Humpty Dumpty [hot air balloon] for years she called me in the bedroom and said, ‘Jason, how about helping me bring this event back?’ And I didn’t even have to think about it.
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At 5:30 a.m. Friday, the pilots and their crews arrived at Murane Playing Fields near Casper College to begin setting up and inflating their hot air balloons. Along with Amelia’s older sister, Madison, and her mother, Crystal Nelson, the trio arrived on the court at 6:15 a.m.
“We got some sleep,” Crystal said. “We’ve come in the past and we’ve missed it for the last two years because they haven’t, but the girls love it. It’s exciting to see the balloons in the air.
A line of cars sat next to the pitch and spectators brought blankets and cups of coffee to wait for the first launch of the hot air balloons. A few of them even climbed the hill on the college campus, overlooking the event.
A little after 7 a.m., four of the five balloons took flight.
“You don’t know it’s gone until it comes back and then you realize, wait a minute, we haven’t seen balloons for a few years,” DeWitt said. “As long as I’m in this job, and even if I’m not in this job, I’d love to help make that happen…we’ve been successful for 16 years and we’re doing it again. I want to ensure that we continue to do so.
Depending on the weather, the festival will feature two more massive hot air balloon launches at 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday from the playgrounds of Murane. Also, at 6 p.m. Saturday, some of the balloons and their pilots will be at David Street Station. They will be offering free tethered balloon rides for kids 12 and under at 7 a.m. on Sundays.