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Chamber excited for 28th Annual Balloon Festival
Volunteers needed

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[August 11, 2016]  LINCOLN - Though this week is all about the 80th Annual Logan County Fair, in just a few short weeks the largest two-day festival of the year will be upon us. The annual Lincoln Balloon Festival will be held August 26th and 27th.

While those dates fall on Friday and Saturday, the first festival events will actually occur on Thursday, August 25th.

Returning to the festival this year, Symphony of Lincoln is planning to revive the annual dinner in the parking lot of the facility. Meanwhile, it will be Media Night at the Logan County Airport.

At the airport, a selection of balloons scheduled to make the weekend flights, will inflate and do hot air rides for members of the media. According to Lincoln/Logan County Chamber Director Cathy Wilhite, there will also be a ribbon cutting ceremony held on that evening, and perhaps a few other special activities to be announced.

Events Coordinator for the Chamber, Kari Adams, along with Wilhite explained that though Symphony bowed out last year, this year the staff and management are excited to be bringing back the evening of free food and entertainment that is open to the public. It was explained that last year, Symphony was wrapping up on some remodeling projects, and staff had a lot of extra work at the time. The management decided it was in the best interest of the residents as well to skip a year for the free dinner. However, this year, they are excited to be coming back and are planning an even larger celebration than in the past.

Adams said that the public should expect great food, great entertainment, and some extra surprises for the youngsters. More details on the Symphony events will be offered at a later date.

Wilhite said that the city of Lincoln will once again be sponsoring the special shape balloon. Again, the Chamber will keep us in suspense just a little bit longer. Wilhite said the special shape would be announced soon.

Adams said the Chamber is excited to announce that this year the Chicago Kiters will be at the Festival, and they will be allowed to fly their kites at the Logan County Airport. Last year, a last-minute announcement from the Federal Aviation Administration forced the kites to leave the airport, which put a slight damper on the event as some people who came to view the kites were unable to find them.

Adams said that on Thursday she received word from the FAA that the kites could fly at the airport. She said she is still waiting to hear whether or not they will be able to fly their giant kites. She said the FAA establishes those rules. The Chamber and the Chicago Kiters must go by what that agency tells them. If the giant kites are not allowed, the Chicago group has smaller kites that will be in the air instead. The kiters will also guide children in the kite making process and kids should be allowed to try out their finished products while at the airport.

Also for kids this year, Wilhite says they hope to bring in a petting zoo. She explained that she wants the event to be family-friendly with activities and sights that will be fun and entertaining for children.

Live musical entertainment at the airport on both Friday and Saturday evenings has been a standard event. Wilhite said that the bands would be announced after the close of the Logan County Fair, but the local community is going to be very excited for one band that is set to perform on Friday night.

Adams added that there will be no shortage of food offerings on Friday and Saturday. She said there would be at least 28 to 30 food vendors at the airport; many are returning favorites that we see each year.

Wilhite and Adams both said they are very excited about the community involvement and support the Balloon Festival receives. Wilhite noted that the festival is very good for the city of Lincoln on the whole as it brings thousands of people to town, where they may take in other tourist attractions and shop the local stores. She said the local business owners know and appreciate that the festival is good for Lincoln and Logan County.

In addition, area children who participated in the summer reading program at the Lincoln Public Library benefit from the festival, as the Chamber provided free passes to the Library which were in turn given to all the children who successfully participated in this yearís summer reading program.

She said that the visitors are also hyped up about the upcoming event. The Chamber office receives calls all the time, folks asking about the festival and confirming the dates so they can make their plans.

Wilhite said folks are also excited about the hot air balloon rides that are being sold. This annual event allows visitors to book an actual ride with a balloonist, not just a tethered ride at the airport. The rides will be given at the lift-off events on Friday and Saturday at the airport. Those riding as a guest will experience the thrill of floating through the air and looking down on our expansive prairie land for a new perspective. They also get the rush of the unpredictable landing that can be gentle as a feather or sometimes a little bumpy. Wilhite said several flight tickets are already sold, but there are a few still available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Those who just want to just get their toes wet on the idea of flying will still be able to take the tethered balloon rides at the airport. With these rides, the hot air balloon is tied down to an anchor vehicle. Guests can ride straight up, and view the airport activities from a loftier height, then come back down for a soft landing. Wilhite said this is a popular event at the airport each year, as dozens at a time wait in line for the next ride.

Weather permitting, there will be a lift-off and glow event on Friday evening as well as Saturday evening. Adams said that the balloonists signed up for the weekend are mostly the same as we see each year. For greater observing pleasure for the crowd, all the balloons are invited to lift off, then half participate in the Friday night glow and the other half in the Saturday night glow.

There will also be the fly-in target competition on Saturday morning for all balloonists, weather permitting. In the target competition, balloonists will leave the airport at early light to find a perfect location to inflate and launch. In the quiet of the morning, they will then fly into the airport with the intention of flying over a marked target on the grass landing strip. A bean bag will then be dropped from the balloon toward the target. The balloonist bag closest to the center will be announced as the winner of the competition.

The Friday and Saturday night events bring in thousands of guests annually. Last year was reported to have been the largest turnout ever, with parking at the airport coming close to full capacity. The Chamber does have a backup parking plan if the airport should fill to capacity this year.

However, for those who wish to avoid parking at the airport and the traffic congestion at the end of the night, shuttle rides will be offered again this year. Adams said the shuttles would collect riders in the parking lot of the Big R store on Woodlawn Road, and deliver them to the airport easily. Throughout the evening on both nights, the shuttles will run to the airport and back to Big R every few minutes, allowing guests the opportunity to come and go when they wish.

Wilhite said once again this year; it is going to take hundreds of volunteers to make this a successful festival. She said she is thankful for the tried and true who volunteer year after year, and she already has commitments from some of them, but there is a need for several more.

She said the chamber needs a minimum of 250 volunteers to work a two-and-one-half hour shift at the airport, either Friday or Saturday, or both. Volunteers are needed to assist with parking, to work at the gates taking admission, handing out festival program books, working at the Chamber beverage center, the souvenir booth, to help around the stage area, to assist with beautification around the grounds, and help at the tethered balloon rides, just to name a few.

All volunteers must be 16 years-of-age, and must consent to a background check.

Those who do volunteer, in addition to being a part of the largest festival of the season, will receive a Balloon Festival Volunteer Tee-shirt, a wrist band to the event and free parking. Volunteers will also be invited to a volunteer dinner held on Wednesday evening, and will be publicly recognized by the Chamber through the Chamber website or Facebook page as well as with local media.

To sign up as a volunteer, print the forms here, fill them out and return to the Chamber office.

Signup sheet volunteer information  Pdf
Signup sheet, shift selections  Pdf

Wilhite and Adams said they are excited and feeling good about the Lincoln Balloon Festival. They are hoping for good weather and look forward to seeing all those colorful balloons in the sky over Lincoln and Logan County.

Wilhite noted that the festival isnít changing much this year, but why should it. The Balloon Festival has a proven track record of success. Having said that, she added that she does want to grow the festival in the future. She wants to see more activities at the airport during the day, and she wants to bring to the event more kid friendly/family friendly attractions in the years to come.

Lincoln Daily News is a proud sponsor of the Lincoln Balloon Festival and is also a great information source for readers. In the days to come, look for the Information Center, posted on the front page of our daily editions. There readers will find information about festival schedules, balloonists, and other festival activities.

[Nila Smith]

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