Moffat County Balloon Festival colors Craig
The Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival rose over Loudy Simpson Park in Craig early Saturday morning, Aug. 6, with the launch of 22 balloons.
The still morning gave way to nice, sunny weather, as the annual balloon festival continued throughout the day with a classic car show, rubber duck race, cardboard boat regatta, food and craft vendors, bingo, live music and much more.
“We are making a little dent in the area, and (people) are going to know where Moffat County is,” said festival organizer Tony St. John, explaining that he met all sorts of folks at the festival who came from as far away as Denver, Grand Junction and many places in between.
With favorable weather, the festival closed on one of its signature events — a nighttime balloon glow — featuring about 10 to 12 balloon pilots set up in a field behind the main stage while a Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty tribute band headlined the concert.
For festival volunteer Nylene Haun, naming her favorite offering at the balloon festival is hard, if not impossible.
“I just love it all,” she said. “There are so many different things like (the cardboard boat regatta), and breakfast, working with the balloon pilots — just the camaraderie, being here and it being something that’s well known for Craig.”
At 76 years old, Haun lives in Golden and comes up for the festival every year. She is also good friends with locals Randy and Cindy Looper. As a result, Haun has been volunteering at the festival for the last seven or eight years, and she has come to love the annual shindig for many, many reasons.
On Saturday, Haun was working the cardboard boat regatta, which drew 14 teams this year — the most ever for the event now it its third year — and nine of them sank.
For the regatta, the teams were put in seven head-to-head timed contests where they had to navigate around two buoys before returning to shore. Because each boat could only get one run, the fastest time was declared the overall winner.
The crowd was likely the big winner, though, because most of the competitors swam the course after their cardboard creations became waterlogged and capsized, dragging pieces of their boats with them as they kicked and paddled their way to end.
“What’s fun is, yes, you want them to get through, but if they sink and sink spectacularly, it’s a lot more fun,” said Randy Looper, adding that in addition to a record number of competitions, he also saw the largest crowd ever for the regatta.
The boats themselves did not disappoint. There were viking ships, an Egyptian pharaoh, a parrot on its back, a smoke-breathing dragon and even two boats that borrowed themes from Pixar’s 2009 animated movie “Up.” One of the “Up” boats even had a dog on the team.
“That’s the first dog we’ve ever seen,” Looper said.
The best designed boat came by from the Polish Pirates, comprised of Mrzena Brzezinska, her husband and their teenage daughter, who are originally from Poland.
The trio spent about three days building their boat. Brzezinska said they didn’t come into the regatta with much know-how but made up for it by using lots of cardboard, glue and courage. Before their race, she was not exactly optimistic about their chances.
“We will sink,” Brzezinska said of her prediction.
Those low expectations might have paid off because in addition to winning best design, the Polish Pirates were one of the five boats that survived upright all the way to the end.
The first place winner was the “Up Adventure” boat, which finished in 2 minutes, 30 seconds and won $750 for their efforts.
From Craig and Hayden, Adrienne Wix and Tegan Ebbert built the “Up Adventure” boat, which came together after Ebbert read about the contest in the newspaper and happened to be “feeling competitive” that day.
On the back of their boat, the duo wrote “Adventure Is Out There.” But did they think that their theme from the movie would help them stay “up” in this adventure?
“Oh, no,” said Wix, who was dressed as the adorable 78-year-old man Carl Fredricksen from the movie for the race.
“We were really going with the theme with the houseboat,” she added.
“We’re pretty confident in our boat. We think it will float for a while, but we’ve never done this before. We’re newbies. We’ve never even watched it.”
As luck would have it, they won.
For Haun, the silly nature of the regatta doesn’t mask a few lifelong lessons about perseverance and camaraderie that come with competing in it. She talked about the groups that lost paddles, had their boats fall apart on them and still managed to finish the race.
“It is just trying — just try,” Haun said. “You have an idea and you see if it works … It’s so fun. The regatta teaches children to do things together, to try and cheer each other on.”
On Tuesday, St. John noted that the high fuel costs likely drove some of the pilots away this year but said their goal is to get up to 50 balloons or more included in the annual festival.
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