LEWISTON — Three balloon launches were canceled at the 29th Great Falls Balloon Festival in Simard-Payne Memorial Park due to poor flying conditions Friday and Saturday. However, about half the balloon fleet inflated for takeoff in the morning and kept smiles on the faces of kids and adults.

For the first time in several years, according to Lehigh Valley Hot Air co-owner Jerika Rathje, the festival featured tethered balloon rides which allowed folks to go up about 50 feet all while safely being attached to the ground.

“It’s been a number of years since they’ve had a tethered balloon here, so we’re really excited to be able to bring back that opportunity,” Rathje said.

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said going up in a balloon, even tethered, was an amazing experience and despite the disappointment of three canceled launches, people were still having a great time.

“It was pretty cool and the festival is a great time,” Sheline said. “If you’re 5 years old, it doesn’t matter. Kids were still having a great time …. and, man, those balloons are larger than life.”

From games and concessions to a giant inflated balloon for kids to explore, the fact that no balloons had so far made it into the air did not seem to dampen the fun. Viola Grassi of Lewiston was in line for face painting and “walking her unicorn” during the afternoon when she recounted the festivities.


“I got to see the balloons this morning which was pretty cool,” Grassi said. “My favorite was the vampire.”

Becky and Bob Morgan have lived in Auburn for 20 years and decided to come out for their third festival. Bob said he was enjoying the music and food and Becky, the general ambience.

“It seems to grow every year,” Becky said. “It’s great people-watching and it’s just fun to walk around.”

The evening launches go too late for the Morgans who said they’ll be home looking up to the sky to see if the launch goes ahead.

The Lehigh Valley Hot Air tent kept a red flag out Saturday afternoon signaling the grounding of balloons due to wind conditions. Rathje acknowledged the disappointment, but said safety is her company’s and festival organizers’ top priority.

“There are some storm systems about 40 miles out and I don’t think they’re coming in, but they’ve been bringing some downdrafts which are making it difficult for the balloons,” said Rathje. “If balloons don’t go up tonight, it would be disappointing, but we want to make sure people are safe.”


Rathje did say Moonglow — a dusk event which will show balloons lit up in all their glory — would almost certainly move forward barring any sudden unforeseen weather.

“When the balloons are launching, they’re all leaving, so it’s great to see in the sky, but not great for photos. It’s nice when they’re all on the ground, a really nice experience for those on the ground.”

Alan Collins, Great Falls Balloon Festival logistics director, said the festival has drawn many large crowds over the past couple of days, but his money is on Sunday, Family Fun Day, being the most fun of all. Entertainment will include a costume contest and trick-or-treating as well as a 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. balloon launch weather permitting, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of kids having fun. The bridge was packed for the parade, which was really nice. People should come out for Family Fun Day which will have a ton of great entertainment.”

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