PLAINVILLE - The 35th Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival is back at Norton Park for another weekend of family fun, flights and fireworks.
The festival, sponsored by the Plainville Fire Company, started Friday evening and will run through Saturday, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.
As the crowds began to roll in Friday afternoon, Jim Lenois, balloon festival chairman, said “we’re just getting started. The balloon glow will go probably about 7:30 and they will glow for half an hour, 40 minutes. Then the fireworks show should go off about 9:30.”
“If the weather is good, we can get about 40,000 for the weekend,” he commented.
The festival has gotten bigger and bigger over the years, he said. “We’ve got 125 crafters and vendors here this year. We’ve added a bunch of food booths to take some of the heat off our fire department food tent. And we have 25 balloonists, most from the Connecticut Lighter Than Air Society, a couple from New Hampshire, a couple from New York.”
“We get so much support from all the town departments and organizations, it’s a tremendous cooperative effort,” Lenois said. “People would be amazed at what our expenses are here. We’re running 30 shuttle buses for two days. Even though the company we use, Dattco, give us a good price they have to pay their people too.”
Still, it’s the fire department’s big fundraiser for the year, he continued. “We don’t charge an entry fee so we don’t make a whole lot of money, other than what we make at our food booth. But some of the money we do raise goes to the scholarship fund for high school and college kids. We also support all the town athletic organizations, the food bank, the Women’s club. We try to help out where we can.”
Fire Capt. Dave Massey was working in the fire department’s food tent. He said most of the profit from the festival goes to pay for equipment and other needs for the all-volunteer department.
“Things are a little slow right now but it will pick up quite a bit as the night progresses. Tonight is supposed to be a good night for the fireworks and for the hot air balloons to go up,” he said.
The balloons launch early Saturday and Sunday mornings. Massey said, “a few thousand people starting coming in to the park around 5 o’clock, then the balloon go off around 6 o’clock, as long as there’s no rain. They can go up if there’s slight wind but if it’s heavy wind they won’t launch.”
The fire department is selling hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chili dogs, fried dough, French fries, etc. Other booths have deep fried Oreos, ice cream cones and sundaes, loaded baked potatoes, cheese steaks, cotton candy, kettle corn, apple fritters and lots more.
Southington resident Zack Westover was there with his girlfriend Kaitlyn Lindsay and her daughter Lilly, age one and a half. “We come here most years. It’s a lot of fund and it’s her first time,” he said, indicating Lilly.
Lindsay said they like the fireworks and “pretty much everything. Lilly loves balloons so when the big ones go up she’ll be amazed.”
For more information about the Plainville Fire Company Hot Air Balloon Festival, visit plainvillefireco.com/hot-air-balloon-festival or find them on Facebook.
Anyone who missed the Friday night balloon glow can catch a repeat Saturday night around dusk, when the balloonists will tether their balloons and light them up. Anyone who wants an early morning ride can inquire with the balloonists by visiting www.ctlighterthanair.org .
There will also be live entertainment throughout the duration of the festival.
People will be allowed to park at the park Saturday and Sunday morning right before the balloon launch. However, afterward they must park at Plainville High School or Robertson Airport, and then shuttle buses will take them back and forth from the festival.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.