Awards from the second Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival:
• Longest flight — David Yob, of Colorado Springs, “EZ2.105 (Rainbow Balloon)”
• Shortest flight — Alan Luksik, of Aurora, “Pondemonium”
• People’s choice — David Stockley, of Murray, Utah, “Moonshine”
The weekend skies above Craig and Moffat County were dotted with shades of almost every color as hot air balloons took flight from Loudy-Simpson Park.
The weekend marked the second Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival.
About 300 people turned out Saturday morning for the lift-off of nine hot air balloons flown by pilots from Colorado and Utah.
Turnout at the launch was nearly twice what it was during last year’s inaugural event, festival organizers said.
Ray Beck, balloon festival committee chairman, said the showing was great considering the iffy weather during the first day of the three-day event.
“We had a fair turnout for the meet and greet on Friday, but (Saturday morning) was one of the best launches I’ve seen, and I’ve seen several in my years,” Beck said. “The air was so calm. We had some of the pilots land right here in the park as opposed to floating down the corridor.
“The pilots really liked Loudy-Simpson, and I want to thank the county for letting us use it.”
Pilot Martin Hill, Jr., of Centennial, said “calm” was the perfect way to describe the morning conditions.
“I took off from the field and it took me five minutes to get to the river,” he said. “Balloonists are the whiniest people in the world — if you don’t have enough wind you whine, and if you have too much wind you whine.”
Hill, a licensed airplane pilot since 1967, has been flying hot air balloons since 1983. On the ground, he works as an independent insurance adjuster.
As pilot of one of the famed RE/MAX balloons, he receives requests from numerous branch brokers of the real estate company, including Pam Horn and Nancy Day of the Craig office, to represent the company in the air.
“We came here last year, and we go to them to see if they’re fun, and we go back because we like the people,” he said. “There are a lot of nice people here. We’d love to come back if they invite us.”
The balloon-filled sky was only part of the day’s high-flying activities. Staff from Denver’s Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum provided aviation-themed activities for kids.
Attendees also watched parachute jumpers from Steamboat Springs and even took to the air themselves in Zephyr helicopter rides.
The red, white and blue of Hill’s RE/MAX balloon wasn’t the only use of the color scheme seen during Saturday’s activities.
The crowd took a break from afternoon festivities to help dedicate Loudy-Simpson’s new flagpole, installed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 and American Legion Post 62.
Nicole Ferree, an incoming Moffat County High School sophomore and balloon festival volunteer, sang “God Bless the U.S.A.” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” as part of the ceremony. The songs were followed by speeches from Craig Mayor Terry Carwile, Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner and Roxanne White, a representative of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office.
Dave Walters, an American Legion adjutant and a senior vice commander with the VFW, was among the veterans who participated in the flag-raising and leading the crowd in the inaugural Pledge of Allegiance.
“With both organizations, teamwork lets us get these kinds of projects done,” he said. “It’s a great honor to be able to raise the flag and know that we live in such a great country.”
Walters said he would have liked to see a bigger turnout for the flag-raising, but a sudden downturn in the weather thinned out the crowd in the late afternoon.
As dusk came, the number of people surged again for the night events, including dancing under the stars and pilots taking back to the air to show their flames against the growing darkness.
“It was like a big nightlight up there, just really huge” Craig resident Kendel Fawcett said. “All the little kids were running around on the ground with glow sticks, and they were obviously having a lot of fun.”
To ensure sound weather conditions, pilots started earlier than the expected 9 p.m. lift-off.
“If they could have started it a little later when it got really dark, that would have been really cool,” Fawcett said. “It was a little hard to see until it got darker, but it was fun. It’s a great way to bring the community together because we don’t have a lot of things like this.
“And I like that you only pay ($5) for the whole weekend.”
Attendee Ashley Simonet also appreciated the inexpensive price for hours of entertainment for her family.
“My kids have been doing all kinds of stuff — they made airplanes, they got their faces painted, all kinds of stuff,” she said. “We’ve had a blast and it’s great to get the kids out here and get them out of the house.”
Hill said seeing the faces of younger balloon enthusiasts keeps him going to balloon festivals, especially when he has the opportunity to take them up in the air on a tethered ride.
Hill took about 100 spectators up in his balloon Sunday morning.
“It lets them see the world like it really looks,” he said. “You can only see that from being in a balloon. You don’t get that from a plane. It’s the only kind of aviation where you can fly over a guy’s house and smell what he’s having for breakfast.”
Sunday’s festivities included an awards ceremony following the second launch, in which six of the balloons took flight.
“You never know how an aerial event like this is going to turn out since you have to work and compromise with the weather conditions,” Beck said. “But, it turned out great and I want to thank our sponsors and the community for coming out.”
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