Moffat County Balloon Festival attracts record turnout | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County Balloon Festival attracts record turnout

A bustle of balloons, runners and pancake flippers broke the early morning silence at Loudy-Simpson Park Saturday morning for the sixth annual Moffat County Balloon Festival.

Clear skies and low winds gave balloon pilots excellent flight conditions and, with the help of a crowd of volunteer crewmembers, the 22 balloons took flight.

Among the lucky few Craig residents to get to hop in one of the baskets were Nicholas Crookston and his dad, RJ.

Nicholas was diagnosed with a rare condition requiring multiple chemotherapy treatments more than a year ago, which prompted Hampton Inn & Suites General Manager Doyle O’Neil decided to donate the balloon ride he would have received as an event sponsor.

The soon-to-be Craig Middle School sixth-grader loved the feel of the air 400 feet up, which was brisk in the early morning.

"It's a good thing it was so cool, because it got really hot up there," he said, noting the propane-fueled flames that made the flight possible.

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Soon after takeoff, racers took to the park trails to compete in the Elevate Education 5K and One-Mile Fun, an event benefiting Friends of Moffat County Education.

Cammy Winder was one of those striding along in the 5K while also keeping her eye on the colorful orbs floating above her.

"It was so amazing to see them bobbing along like that," she said.

As the sun rose, people poured into the park, swarming under a covered picnic area for a plate of hot pancakes and also spread throughout Loudy-Simpson for the day's full schedule of events, from the "over-the-line" tournament on the soccer fields to the Colorado Cruisers Car Show in the parking lots to the children's pie-eating contest sponsored by Village Inn.

As the afternoon sun started to get warm, Kaziah Johnston, 12, and others dove face-first into pie tins filled with cold whipped cream and gummi worms.

"It was wonderful," she grinned after being declared the winner in her age group.

More and more people filed into Loudy-Simpson, which organizer Randy Looper estimated to be about 4,000 throughout the course of Saturday.

"That's way more than we had last year, it's just been huge," he said, adding that at least 1,000 people were present for the first early morning ascension.

Kahuna Beach Party's performance of songs by the Beach Boys — as well as other '60s and '70s groups like The Beatles and Doobie Brothers — drew solid numbers, as did the twilight balloon glow that finished the day.

"The important thing to note is this is 100 percent funded by Craig businesses and the people here," Looper said. "This is all because of them."

Craig Daily Press intern Derek Maiolo also contributed to this article.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

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