Katelyn Bradley, her sister Karen and parents Connie and Ryan Bradley -- all of Hudson Falls -- watch liftoffs at the Adirondack Balloon Festival's opening ceremonies held Thursday Aug. 20 in Crandall Park, Glens Falls. The festival continues through Sunday with various activities at the Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury, plus an event-ending liftoff Sunday afternoon in Crandall Park. Read accompanying story for details.
Although many of the flights scheduled Thursday and Friday in the Adirondack Balloon Festival were grounded due to prevailing breezes, spirits of spectators soared regardless.
The acclaimed festival continues through the weekend with launches early morning and late afternoon Saturday through Sunday a.m. at the Warren County airport, and Sunday evening in Crandall Park, Glens Falls.
At the opening ceremonies Thursday afternoon of the 40th annual edition of the festival, smiling spectators greeted friends and chatted with balloonists and shared memories of earlier festivals. Balloonists and festival organizers said it was one of the largest crowds ever for the fest in its history.
A large crowd surrounding a giant birthday-cake balloon -- no less than 80 feet tall -- cheered when the craft was inflated.
Among those hailing the balloon liftoffs were Doug and Yvette Mahan of Lindenhurst NY, on a weekend getaway from Long Island with their children Casey, 17 and Duncan, 9.
"We've been to many balloon festivals -- where you're separated from the balloons by a fence," Doug Mahan said. "Here, you can talk with the pilots and help out on their crew -- you can mix with the pilots up close and personal."
Scott Wetzel was among a half-dozen local volunteers selling clothing, posters, mugs and other merchandise commemorating the festival's 40th anniversary.
"This is by far the biggest crowd I've seen for years on the festival's opening night -- and the enthusiasm is incredible," Wetzel said. He's the soon-to-be brother-in-law of festival president, Mark Donahue.
Wetzel said festival volunteers were answering questions -- primarily giving directions to first-time attendees -- over the festival's hotline, which was ringing non-stop, and through the event's Facebook page.
"This year, there's tons of bus tours headed here," he added.
Nearby, Joan Grishkot of Glens Falls sat in a folding chair, greeting pilots, volunteers and spectators. Her late husband Walt Grishkot founded the festival with her support. She gazed at the giant birthday-cake balloon, declaring the festival's 40th anniversary.
"It seems like yesterday that this festival started up," she said. "I'm so thankful younger people have taken it over and are running it. I can't imagine our community without it."
Adirondack Balloon Festival President Mark Donahue, Walk Grishkot's successor, leaned over and asked Joan Grishkot a question about vendors' contracts, before taking a break to watch a liftoff.
"We couldn't do this without Joan -- she's a huge part of this event, and she's like my second mother," he said. "I'm ecstatic about the crowd today."
Donahue watched dozens of parents and their children cheer a liftoff.
"It was Walt's philosophy that the community owns the event, and that's why it continues to be operated by a non-profit organization and run strictly by volunteers," Donahue said.
About 40 yards away, John and Melinda Lee, and their three young children watched a liftoff. In her mother's arms, Gwendolyn, 2, waved to a multi-color balloon as it took to the air, while 18-month-old J.T., 18 months, watched the spectacle wide-eyed, riding on his dad's shoulders.
The couple has attended the balloon festival ever since they moved to Queensbury four years ago, John Lee said.
"To us, this symbolizes the start of autumn," he said. "With everything that goes on around here, this event sets the tone."
Nearby, Leta Lynch of Lake George aimed her new iPad at an inflating balloon, taking photos from various angles, soon after she'd recorded images of various smiling people in the crowd gazing skyward.
"I love the festival here in Crandall Park -- it's oriented toward families, and it's so much fun for everyone."
Nearby, Carol Pluta of Saratoga Springs held a guide rope on her family's balloon, Friendship Too. Pluta and her husband and son attended the festival for years, serving on other balloonists' crews, before acquiring a balloon.
"We got totally hooked on ballooning," she said. Since 1997, their own balloon has been among the 100-plus craft featured at the festival.
"This year, the crowd is way larger than usual," Pluta added. "There was a traffic jam at 3 p.m., two hours before the ceremonies started. People love this festival, because its up-close and personal."
Saturday and Sunday's activities at the balloon festival, located at the Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury, include the inflation and flight (weather permitting) of up to 100 balloons, a craft fair, with 30-plus vendors, and displays of aircraft. Breakfast is available through 11 a.m. Children's activities include a rock-climbing wall, bounce houses, and kite-flying. The Jonathan Newell Band will be performing their original rock music from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, up to 40 balloons will illuminate the sky in the festival's Moonglow event.
A mass ascension of balloons in honor of Walt Grishkot is planned for 6:30 a.m. Sunday at the airport. Worship services on site will be held at 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.
The balloon festival continues Sunday mid-afternoon through about 6 p.m. back in Crandall Park, Glens Falls, off Glen St. with vendors, musical entertainment, and the liftoff of 20 or more balloons (weather permitting), as well as closing ceremonies.