Visitors and locals took to the sky on Saturday evening during a hot air balloon event hosted at Freeport High School.

A hot air balloon commanded by Damn Yankee Balloons lifts into the air on one of its first tethered trips Saturday evening. C. Thacher Carter/The Times Record

According to Freeport Councilor Tawni Whitney, the event was part of the town’s larger revitalization initiative, designed to attract more people to the Freeport area and generate economic resilience.

Whitney said that the air balloon was one example of a pilot project for the initiative, with other upcoming examples including a pop-up skatepark for kids and increased downtown seating and parklets.

“Also, I was very concerned about our elders,” Whitney said, referencing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our elders are already more isolated than the rest of us, and I wanted a way for them to feel honored to come back out into the community in a safe way.”

Brunswick resident Irv Hodgekin, was one of the 150 people to take flight on Saturday. “It was smooth,” Hodgekin said. “There’s no sensation really of lifting.”

Derald Young looks over Freeport while taking riders up in the hot air balloon Saturday evening. Nina Mahaleris/The Times Record

 

Jim Thompson of Sidney, Maine, who was recently diagnosed with throat cancer and rode the balloon with his wife Lois, said that the ride was an “opportunity of a lifetime.”

“Life is exciting,” Thompson added.

Jim Thompson of Sidney smiles as the balloon lifts off the ground. Nina Mahaleris/The Times Record

Belgrade resident Betty Hambrick said that she came to the event to spend time with her granddaughter and give her the experience of riding in the balloon.

“I wanted her to see the whole process because it’s pretty amazing,” Hambrick said, noting that she had flown in hot air balloons with both her sons and her dad before, and that the activity has become a family tradition.

The hot air balloon that was used at Saturday’s event was set up by Damn Yankee Balloons, a Dixfield-based company owned and piloted by Derald Young.

Young, who first founded his company in 1978, said that the balloon on Saturday was a tethered flight, meaning the balloon stays roped down, as opposed to a free flight, where the balloon goes with the wind, without ropes, and then later lands in whatever field is available.

Young said that his company does about eight to 10 tethered flights, and 50 to 75 free flights, per year. The business has brought him all throughout the United States, as well as abroad.

Katrina Kelley of Damn Yankee Balloons smiles as she helps setting up the hot air balloon for Saturday’s event. Nina Mahaleris/The Times Record

“It’s sharing this unique experience with everyone that really makes me enjoy it still to this day,” Young said. “Any time we do a tether, it’s always community involvement. The balloons are beautiful, they’re large, they’re colorful, they are just uplifting and any time someone sees a hot air balloon they just smile.”

Saturday’s balloon, which reached an altitude of about 80 feet with up to five passengers, was managed by about a dozen volunteers as well as Young.

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