Waiting for liftoff: ‘Fun family time’ but some disappointment at balloon festival

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  • Many of the 15 hot air balloons that launched at sunrise from the Three County Fairgrounds fly over the Northampton Meadows around 7 a.m. Saturday, July 13, 2019, the second day of the Northeast Balloon Festival. A few of the balloons continued on the light northwest wind, crossing the Connecticut River and the Mount Holyoke Range. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Many of the 15 hot air balloons that launched at sunrise from the Three County Fairgrounds fly over the Northampton Meadows around 7 a.m. Saturday, July 13, 2019, the second day of the Northeast Balloon Festival. A few of the balloons continued on the light northwest wind, crossing the Connecticut River and the Mount Holyoke Range. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Shane Allessio employs a bow for a solo on his double bass during a set with the Aaron Shadwell trio at the Northeast Balloon Festival at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, July 13, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Many of the 15 hot air balloons that launched at sunrise from the Three County Fairgrounds fly over the Northampton Meadows around 7 a.m. Saturday, July 13, 2019, the second day of the Northeast Balloon Festival. A few of the balloons continued on the light northwest wind, crossing the Connecticut River and the Mount Holyoke Range. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Many of the 15 hot air balloons that took part in a sunrise launch from the Three County Fairgrounds begin to settle onto the Northampton Meadows around 7 a.m. Saturday, July 13, 2019, the second day of the Northeast Balloon Festival. A few of the balloons continued on the light northwest wind, crossing the Connecticut River and the Mount Holyoke Range. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Tyne LaRoche, 11, of Cheshire feeds a very satisfied burro in the petting zoo of the Northeast Balloon Festival at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, July 13, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Alma Lee, of West Springfield keeps time on a hula hoop as the Aaron Shadwell trio performs on stage at the Northeast Balloon Festival at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, July 13, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/14/2019 6:46:24 PM

NORTHAMPTON — On a blistering Saturday afternoon at the Three County Fairgrounds, 5-year-old Mary Beaudoin jumped off a spinning dragon amusement park ride after it stopped.

“It keeps going round and round and round,” she said with a wide smile, jumping up and down.

Beaudoin and her mom, Caroline Beasely, traveled from Boston to spend a day with some of their friends at the second Northeast Balloon Festival.

Advertised on its website as “America’s Premier Hot Air Balloon Festival,” the event was marked with various food vendors, shops, rides and games. Beasely and Beaudoin said although they were having fun on other attractions, they were disappointed, because there weren’t any balloons in the air.

“Families need something consistent, [something] you know what you’re going to arrive and see,” Beasely said of the expectation of seeing hot air balloons at a festival of this kind.

Veronica Parsloe, the event director, said she had heard similar criticism after last year’s festival in Milton, New Hampshire, but reiterated that the event’s online schedule had clearly stated hot air balloon flights would happen twice a day. On Saturday and Sunday, the schedule said that balloon flights would happen from 4:30 to 6:30 a.m., and again at 6 p.m.

“There’s always a balloon on site, but it can’t go up during the day just because of the thermal pressure in the air, because of the wind,” she said.

Parsloe said she anticipated around 30,000 people to come to the fairgrounds over the course of the event’s three days.

On Friday evening, the day’s only balloon flight had to be canceled due to safety concerns caused by wind, she said. On Saturday, the morning flights went up and, at noon, Parsloe said she expected the evening flights to take off as planned.

Informing people about changes to the itinerary was important to her, she said. The schedule had always been subject to change and balloon flights were always weather permitting, according to Parsloe.

“Would you rather get hurt, or would you rather stay safe,” she added.

Parsloe said the event had 15 total balloons, each manned by individual owners — some with over 30 years of piloting experience.

For those who paid $275 per person for a balloon flight, if it had to be canceled, they were refunded, Parsloe said. Tethered balloon flights for $20 per person were a cheaper alternative, carrying passengers 50 feet above the ground starting at 4 p.m. Admission to the event was $15 per person, with children under 12 able to get in for free.

At night, a few balloons were slated to go up for a “Balloon Glows” show, where the light from the hot air balloons illuminate them in the night sky, she said.

Parsloe said she was interested in coming back to Northampton next year.

“We’ve had nothing but positive feedback. It’s been a great weekend so far,” she said.

All while live music was playing, people were buying an eclectic variety of food that ranged from bison burgers, to Jamacian cuisine, to ice cream and pizza.

Balloon operators were demonstrating hot air balloon burners, explaining the mechanics of the equipment while dazzling kids and adults alike with great plumes of fire rising from the stationary basket.

Children petted and fed alpacas, llamas and donkeys in the petting zoo, while others bounced on bouncy castles and slid down a large slide.

Taking a break from the heat, Melissa Jean-Charles, of Malden, her husband, Val Jean-Charles, and their two children, Carver, 4, and Madison, 2, said they were hoping to see hot air balloons at the festival, but that they were having fun regardless.

“I wanted to see a balloon, but I don’t know if I’ll make it in time. We missed the morning one,” she said.

She said they were considering staying until later in the day, when the evening flight was supposed to take off.

“The kids are hoping to see one, we’ve been trying to prep them for, like, the whole week,” she said. “I’m hoping we get to see at least even the tethered one. At least they’ll see that and be excited about that.”

A few feet away, Arthur Mace, 3, from Groton, Connecticut, sat in the shade eating a candy apple — unfazed by the red, sticky mess he had made all over his face and hands.

His mother, Rebekah Mace, said she had brought Arthur to the festival to see hot air balloons, though they hadn’t seen any yet. She had taken a hot air balloon ride in her youth, and wanted her son to see them in the sky.

Even if she didn’t get to see a balloon, Mace said she was happy to see her son have a good time seeing a zebra at the petting zoo.

“It’s been fun family time,” she said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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