LEWISTON – The Great Falls Balloon Festival is ‘Returning to Nature’.
The three-day event returns to the skies on Friday after the pandemic grounded the popular event for the past two years.
Thirteen hot air balloons, two specialized hot air balloons, a parade, food kiosks, entertainment and much more are planned for the three days on either side of the river.
Launches will take place at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston, but food vendors, entertainment and other activities will also take place in Auburn, centered around Main Street and Festival Plaza.
The festival board had to overcome several challenges to bring back the annual tradition.
“We encountered many obstacles ranging from tiny to very impactful,” said Tracy Collins, president of the Great Falls Balloon Festival, explaining the challenges of bringing the festival back for its 28th year.
“We’ve spent a lot of time promoting and reminding people that we’re back and ‘back from the wild,’ hence the 2022 theme,” she said.
Due to the pandemic, many of the area businesses that the festival has relied on over the years to help sponsor the event are unable to help this year, Collins said. “Sponsorship is always the biggest challenge, so this year was definitely a hurdle to overcome.”
Similarly, Collins said it was more difficult this year to bring hot air balloons to attend the festival. “We had a few (balloonists) who relied on their ballooning for a living, and they’ve now sadly retired.”
Collins said the festival inspires balloonists to come to the event.
“We pay for the special-shaped balloons, we also pay for the balloonists’ propane, hotels, special pilot packs and rides,” Collins said. “It’s an incentive to inspire pilots to fly, in addition to loving what they do.”
The two special balloons presented this year will be Tico the sloth and Simba the lion. Both will be piloted by members of the Monahan family of Queensbury, New York. Specialty balloons take off in the morning, weather permitting, and offer tethered launches for evening sessions.
Returning this year are the many food and drink stalls operated as fundraisers by local non-profit groups.
“Since part of our mission is to have a place where nonprofits can raise funds, we want to maximize all openings,” Collins said.
Organizers also put together a slew of entertainment at venues in Lewiston and Auburn over the three days, as well as a Saturday morning parade from Auburn to Lewiston starting at 11 a.m., a fireworks display at 9 p.m. hours Saturday, a day of family fun in Lewiston from 9-11 a.m. Sunday, a pancake breakfast at the Lewiston site each morning, and more.
For more information and a full schedule, visit the festival’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/greatfallsballoonfestival.
The festival kicks off on Friday morning, depending on the weather, with a launch at 6am. Launches are at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day, weather permitting. The last launch will take place on Sunday evening.
The party is free. Organizers expect to see over 100,000 visitors.
For those interested in getting more involved with the festival, Collins noted, “We’re always looking to add more people to the event’s board, committees, and volunteer staff!”
Quiz: Test your knowledge of the Hot Air Balloon Festival!