A large crowd, believed to be the Adirondack Balloon Festival's largest ever for their kickoff event, gathered in Glens Falls' Crandall Park to watch about two dozen balloons soar into the sky. Balloonists and out-of-towners praised the not only the acclaimed festival, but for the local citizenry's spirit and character.
Amidst pilots getting their craft ready for flight, Mark Donahue leaned on his truck which bore an Adirondack Balloon Festival logo.
A middle-aged man with tears in his eyes walked up to Donahue, shook his hand, said “Thank you, thank you so much,” and then disappeared in the crowd.
Donahue, Adirondack Balloon Festival president, looked slightly bewildered.
“The joy of this festival is just amazing,” he said, recalling how a half-hour earlier, moments after he’d formally opened the event Sept. 19, a four-year-old child asked him to dance, and he did.
Donahue gazed over the crowd at Crandall Park — people were packed around two dozen balloonists, either inflating their balloons, or prepping their rigging.
“This is phenomenal — this is the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen for the festival on a Thursday night,” he said, estimating a gathering of 7,500.
Gesturing toward the gridlock on Glen St., Donahue continued his observations.
“This is just insane — I heard that it’s a 45-minute drive from downtown to here,” he said. “But there are smiles everywhere.”
Joyce Willis, 73, of New Franklin, Ohio walked up to Donohue and offered her thoughts.
“I wanted to come to upstate New York and see THE balloon festival and here I am,” she said gripping his hand.
She had traveled to Glens Falls on a tour bus with other Ohioans, tourists up to the age of 93.
“People are so kind here,” she told Donohue, noting that not long before, she had walked past a local man who spontaneously stood up and offered her his chair for balloon-watching. Donahue smiled as Willis told her story.
Nearby, Mike Adolfi watched a balloon pilot give his craft a shot of propane flame, and it drifted upward. From Queensbury, he’s one of the few local residents who hasn’t regularly attended the area’s premier festival. This year is the first he’s experienced in 25 years. Adolphi explained his job has kept him busy, but now he’s retired.
“This is unbelievable,” he said. “This is great for the community — especially the kids.”
His wife Linda watched the ballon rise.
“They do it right, letting people get up close — and planning a lot of activities.”
John Blair of Bridgeton N.J. straightened out his balloon’s rigging prior to inflating it.
He’s been a featured balloon pilot at the Adriondack Balloon Festival for more than 20 years.”This festival is the only big one I attend — it’s my favorite,” he said. “It’s the spirit, the crowd, the way pilots are treated, and it’s always been safe.”
Sue Dingley watched the balloon drift into the sky, while the crowd below cheered. She’s been attending since the 1970s.
I just love it — the balloons, the crowd and the noise,” she said. “One of these years, I’m going up in one.”
Balloonist Joe Schwerman of Queensbury watched other pilots get their craft ready for flight.
“Look at this crowd — look at all these people having a helluva good time,” he said. Schwerman added that opeople in the Glens Falls region really embrace the festival. Weeks before it occurs, they hang up hot-air balloon flags and “spinners” and wear their balloon festival T-shirts, he continued.
“It’s really fabulous how people really get into this festival; how they look forward to it,” he said. He listened to the crowd cheer as a crew in a basket soared upward.
“For balloon pilots, it’s all about pleasing the crowd,” he said.
Jennifer Hartung of Hudson Falls held her 10-month old son Oliver, who was wide-eyed as he was looking up at giant balloons rising as massive flames were shot into other balloon envelopes to get them to inflate.
“I look forward to fall for apple picking, pumpkin-flavored coffee, and most of all the balloon festival,” she said.
Not far away, Jill Guillet of Glens Falls — along with ther husband Paul and her 9-year-old daughter Sylvia — was watching balloon crews prepare for flight.
“I grew up going to this balloon festival, she said. “For me, this is the annual kickoff for fall.”
Guillet’s employer, Northern G.I. Endoscopy, sponsors a balloon. Last year, Sylvia took a short flight.
“My ride was really cool,” she said. “It was fun.”
Laurel Johnson carried her five-year-old granddaughter Riley on her shoulders. The youngster smiled and clapped as one balloon after another took off.
“I brought all three of my kids to the festival — and now it’s another generation,” she said.
Lisa Coutu of Queensbury danced in place to the music of the Stony Creek Band performing on the park stage.
“This is the best,” Coutu said. “Everybody’s happy, and it’s a great family event,” she said. “There’s nothing to not like about it.”
The festival moved Friday morning to the Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport, where activities are to continue through Sunday.
On Saturday and Sunday at the airport, activities and breakfast begin at 5 a.m. Eighty to 90 balloons lift off at about 6:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. both days Vendors open up early and continue all day. On Saturday, a special balloon titled the World’s Largest Petting Zoo” is to debut. It features 10 specially shaped animal balloons that inflate side by side.
Saturday’s signature anniversary event will be the “40 for 40” Moonglow at the airport where there will be as many as 40 hot air balloons inflated and illuminating the night sky at 8 p.m.
All flights are weather permitting.
The action at the airport includes an art show, concessions to benefit local charities, military aircraft on display, kites, a rock climbing wall and bounce houses for children, and church services on Sunday morning.
Spectators are urged to bring their camera because there are plenty of dramatic photo opportunities — but dogs are barred from the grounds.
The festival concludes with Sunday’s late-afternoon launch, when balloons will be available for people to purchase rides.
Newly available this year is VIP Parking. Located in front of the airport terminal, passes are available for a fee of $15 for the weekend. This provides priority parking and separate entrance and exits.
For details, see: www.adirondackballoonfest.org