LEWISTON — When several hundred people gathered to watch the hot air balloons ascend over Simard-Payne Memorial Park shortly after 6 a.m. Saturday, only one booth out of dozens at the Great Falls Balloon Festival grounds was open for business.

It was the Lewiston High School Girls Field Hockey Boosters, who had started serving coffee for free an hour earlier to anyone who showed up.

“This is a way to form a community and some camaraderie,” said field hockey booster parent Jennifer Dumas of Lewiston.

The 20 or so hot air balloons are the stars of the three-day festival, where enthusiasts can shell out $200 for a ride when the balloons ascend at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day. There are chances to go up in a tethered balloon for $10 to $15 a person starting in the late afternoons if conditions are right.

The balloonists were also the big attraction in Saturday’s parade, where vans toting the hot air balloon baskets and operators brought applause and cheers from spectators.

But the festival, which started Friday and runs through Sunday, is all about raising money for the Lewiston-Auburn area’s clubs and charitable organizations. The festival was expressly founded to help raise money for nonprofit groups when it was founded 24 years ago and it continues to make that its mission, said co-director Mell Hamlyn, who has been involved in the festival in one way or another for most of its existence.


Hamlyn said by the time the festival ends, more than 100,000 spectators will have visited one of three different locations in Lewiston and Auburn where festival events were taking place. The festival was expected to bring in roughly $200,000 for the fundraising groups. About 100 volunteers keep the festival moving, along with hundreds of others who man the food booths, parking lots and kiosks raising money for their organizations.

The festival also included carnival rides, musical acts, dog performances, a medieval re-enactment encampment, comedy shows, fun runs and a costume contest based on this year’s Star Wars festival theme.

Hamlyn said Saturday the crowds were as big as she had ever seen them.

By 10 a.m. Saturday, Dumas and dozens of other parents were filling in during four-hour shifts for their field hockey-playing daughters, who were away at a game. Dumas said it didn’t matter that their girls were not there because the parents were making friends and meeting new girls field hockey parents.

Dumas said serving free coffee and selling a variety of fried foods, including pickles, chicken and Oreos, could bring in as much as $1,000 for the team if the weather continued to hold.

The Oxford Hills Community Travel Group was selling pulled pork and other food its members made themselves. They were hoping to make a dent in their goal to raise $4,000 for each student member to make a trip to Greece and Italy next summer. They put in long hours Friday – 1 to 10:30 p.m. – and were back again Saturday to work from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

“We ran out of pulled pork five times Friday,” said Peter VanLoan, 12, of Norway, a member of the group.


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