The Great Wellsville Balloon Rally will fly for the first time since 2019

For Brad Thompson, the first night of the Great 2022 Wellsville Hot Air Balloon Rally will be like a reunion of family members who haven’t seen each other in years.

Balloonists from Florida, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania and Canada, along with many others closer to home, are heading to Allegany County to reconnect with old friends and the skies above the Genesee River and from the green hills of Wellsville.

“Once we get together for the opening dinner on Friday night, we’ll all get to know each other,” Thompson, the longtime chairman of the rally’s organizing committee, said of the more than two dozen drivers and support crews scheduled to be in town July 15-17 for the 45th Annual Wellsville Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Crowds of spectators are also expected at Wellsville’s Island Park for the first scheduled hot air balloon launches since 2019 after COVID-19 restrictions led to event cancellations in 2020 and 2021.

“Unfortunately we haven’t been able to have him for the past two years due to the pandemic. It’s good for the community to bring him back,” Thompson said. in a hot air balloon.

“We welcome a lot of people. I would say 20,000 to 30,000 from outside Wellsville. We usually have a good turnout and if we have good weather we will have a very good turnout. We will continue to pray for good weather.

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A key feature of the Wellsville Rally is the cost of admission: there is none.

“I understand we’re one of the only free balloon gatherings in the country,” Thompson said. “Certainly the only free [event] on the East coast. Most of the time you charge $5 or $10 or even more than $20 or $30 to get in. »

Thompson said the gathering relies on sponsorships, T-shirt sales and vendor fees to cover costs.

“We are doing everything we can to keep him free,” he said.

Planning to attend the Great Wellsville Balloon Rally? Here’s what to know about launch times, parking, things to do when the balloons are on the ground and more:

The hot air balloons leave Island Park after a successful launch at the 2019 Great Wellsville Balloon Rally. Four launches are scheduled over three days this weekend, July 15-17.  Free entry.

Balloon launches are weather dependent

The rally will begin with the first launch scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday. There are two launches on Saturday, at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The last mass liftoff from Island Park is scheduled for 6 a.m. Sunday.

That’s the plan, but high winds, low visibility and storms can jeopardize a launch. According to Thompson, the best conditions for successful balloon rides are winds below five miles per hour, no thunderstorms within 80 miles of Wellsville, no fog, and cool temperatures.

“Cold is best although they can fly in warmer temperatures,” Thompson said.

The rally Balloonmeister makes the final decision as to whether the balloons can go up, depending on the conditions. The 2022 Balloonmeister is Tony Saxton, Rachel’s Dream balloon pilot and Wellsville Rally veteran.

For attendees, Island Park’s spectator areas provide ample space and visual access to balloon activities and launches. Vendors, restrooms, and shuttle access are all provided. Smoking or alcohol is prohibited on the rally site and spectators are discouraged from bringing pets.

Don’t forget a camera!

Spectators get a close view of an inflated hot air balloon at the Great Wellsville Balloon Rally.

Things to do between launches at the Great Wellsville Balloon Rally

Many activities and events are happening around Wellsville all weekend.

Following Friday night’s scheduled launch, balloonists will light up the field with a massive display of afterglow at dusk. Afterglow is when all balloons ignite their burners and ignite at the same time. Thompson called it a “great image opportunity”.

Once the balloons are up Saturday morning, head downtown for the Main Street Festival sponsored by the Wellsville Area Chamber of Commerce. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wellsville Merchants will showcase special sales, joined by nearly 100 vendors selling crafts and handmade retail items, food and more.

Rally organizers have planned special events for Saturday night. Following the 6 p.m. launch, “Lucky Number” will feature live music at Island Park. The music will lead to a bigger and better fireworks display around 9:45 p.m.

“We doubled our fireworks budget,” Thompson said. “So instead of a 15 minute display, it will be a 30 minute display.”

Spectators look skyward during a Great Wellsville Balloon Rally at Island Park.

Shuttles are the best bet for Balloon Rally enthusiasts

The only parking available at Island Park is a handicap accessible parking lot.

A convenient option is the free shuttles to and from the park. The service operates from two locations at opposite ends of the city – the old Kmart Plaza on Bolivar Road and the Northern Lights Plaza on Andover Road.

The bus service will operate on Friday and Saturday evenings, starting around 4 p.m. Pickups will take place at 15-minute intervals, ending around 10:30 p.m.

For Thompson and the nearly 20 other members of the Great Wellsville Balloon Rally volunteer committee, organizing the annual event is a labor of love.

He said, “We’re doing the best we can. We are volunteers. We are paid exactly zero. Every volunteer does this for the love of the rally and to be able to bring it to Wellsville and keep it free.”

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