Moffat County Balloon Festival flying higher than ever

New, returning features inflate annual event’s reputation

Andy Bockelman
The view from Utah-based Kent Barnes' balloon, BelleStar, offers an aerial view Friday morning of the Yampa River, Cedar Mountain and other hot air balloonists as they take to the skies above Northwest Colorado. The balloons and more will be part of the sixth annual Moffat County Balloon Festival, which launches at 6:30 a.m. Saturday at Loudy-Simpson Park.
Lauren Blair

If you’re at Loudy-Simpson Park bright and early Saturday morning, odds are you’ll be looking upward. However, remember as you turn your attention elsewhere that there’s a lot going on back down on the ground.

The sixth annual Moffat County Balloon Festival gets going with a schedule packed with diverse activities, and if you think everything is about the balloons, you should know the festival encompasses a lot more.

Up, up and away!

Admittedly, the main attraction is hard to ignore, perhaps this year more than any other as the number of balloon pilots and their colorful crafts rises from 15 last year to 22 joining in the two days of launches.

The increase has led to Balloon Festival volunteers needing to be more regimented about how the vessels are arranged on the grassy fields of Loudy-Simpson.

Organizer Randy Looper said a grid system will be employed, like the one used at Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest such gathering in the world. Though Moffat County’s event is nowhere near the same size — Albuquerque features more than 500 balloons yearly and runs for more than a week in October — the growing number of pilots is a plus.

“It’s great that we’ve got so many this year,” Looper said.

After the 6:30 a.m. launch Saturday, most of the balloonists will be set up later in the day for the other display of their unique pastime as the balloon glow lights up the evening skyline, during which time spectators can get up close and check out the equipment, such as the propane tanks that make the whole thing possible.

A full day of festivities

Once the balloons have touched down again following the launch, a whole schedule is in store.

If watching balloons soaring took your breath away, you may want to get it back quickly if you plan to participate in the Elevate Education 5K and One-Mile Fun Run, part of Friends of Moffat County Education’s running fundraising series, during which your kids can enjoy an FMCE-provided bookmobile, and if you’re so inclined, you can donate to Love INC of the Yampa Valley’s collection of school supplies for an upcoming Back-to-School Fair.

Afterward, get your grub on with a special breakfast complete with all-you-can-eat pancakes that leads into a day of food and crafts vendors, a beer garden provided by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 and other happenings throughout the day.

Chainsaw artists Chad Stratton, Damon Gorecki, Matt Ounsworth and Bongo Love will be carving away again after their stints in Whittle the Wood Rendezvous this summer, along with other returning highlights of Balloon Festival that prove some things are too much fun to only do once, whether it’s the great pie pig-out sponsored by Village Inn, wagon rides and Classic Air helicopter demonstrations, a kid’s money pit or the Bernie Rose Story Hour.

Organizer Derek Cleverly said local storytellers David Morris, Janet Sheridan, David Johnson and Brett and Julie Sperl plan to take the stage and weave a few masterful yarns for all.

“It’s a great thing for families to enjoy,” he said.

The start of new traditions?

As much familiar things will be happening, there’s always room for more in the busy day of Balloon Festival, among them the Colorado Cruisers Car Show, an exhibition of classic autos and motorcycles that benefits the group’s work within the community.

If you have yet to register your vehicle, it costs $25 to sign up the day of the show and $20 for each additional entry. Everyone gets a t-shirt as well as the chance to win a $1,000 cash prize and plenty of other door prizes, including a balloon ride for two.

On the soccer fields will be the “over-the-line” tournament, a game that’s not quite softball or baseball but is guaranteed to provide some entertainment as eight three-person teams prepare to smack around a ball, leading to a championship game Sunday morning.

Cleverly put together the OTL event and will also be overseeing a booth on the other side of the park. His business, Red Coyote Adventure, will provide stand-up paddleboards for use on the Loudy-Simpson pond, providing a test of skills as people head out on the water with the opportunity to possibly pick up a few prizes.

“It’s kind of a demo day for us,” Cleverly said. “They can take the boards out and see how well they like them and have some fun.”

Then there’s the concert, which may not be a new feature, but Moffat County will have “Fun, Fun, Fun” welcoming a novel twist on a worldwide favorite that appeals to more than just “California Girls” — the Beach Boys tribute group Kahuna Beach Party, whose performance leads into the balloon glow, wrapping up a day that has something happening for almost 16 straight hours, Looper noted.

“We’ve got so much more than we’ve ever had, things going on from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” he said. “Everybody’s going to have a great time. All the stuff we’ve added has just been huge.”

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.