Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Adirondack Balloon Fest: Up, Up and Away in Queensbury

Advice for anyone who attends the Adirondack Balloon Festival next year: get there early.

Early, of course, is a painful thing when balloons are involved. They take off at dawn, mostly, which means waking up at 5 a.m. if you live an hour away, as I do. It’s even more painful if you get up early and don’t get any balloons. Thanks to high winds, three launches scheduled for Saturday morning and Friday and Saturday evenings had to be canceled.

So perhaps that explains the extra-large crowd Sunday morning at the Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury — a brisk and cloudy day, but thankfully free of breeze, allowing nearly a hundred balloons to fill the sky. It took us an hour to get there, and another 45 minutes for the bumper-to-bumper traffic to make its way into the airport.

The festival is an Adirondack success story (although technically it takes place outside the Blue Line in Queensbury … it’s close enough).

The event began 38 years ago, brainchild of local resident Walter Grishkot and his wife Joan. Walter, a photographer by profession, got a great idea to promote the new event. He posed a full-size balloon above an outhouse, tied up the floating ship and had the pilot descend a ladder. He captioned the photo, “An unscheduled stop to the Adirondack Balloon Festival.”

Grishkot, a born marketer, gave the photo to the Associated Press and other wire services, and the photo was printed all over the country. The first year, 13 balloons showed up. Today, the festival gets about 90 balloon attendees, and as many as 25,000 people show up for the big launches held during the weekend.

The festival is one of 1,800 balloon festivals held around the country. The biggest, in Albuquerque, attracts 750 balloons.

When I was in Queensbury Sunday morning, 90 seemed plenty enough. They filled the sky, like giant, multicolored bubbles rising from the grass next to the runway. There were a variety of shaped balloons too — a mushroom, a figure in a barrel, a demon head, a spider, and others.

With no morning sun, the colors weren’t as bright as I’ve seen in previous years. But it was still an impressive display.

Balloon photography by Alan Weschler.

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Alan Wechsler writes about outdoor recreation and is a regular contributor to Adirondack Explorer.

Alan has been coming to the Adirondacks since his uncle took him on his first backpacking trip—with wet snow, followed by temperatures down to zero degrees—at age 15. He says he still hasn’t learned his lesson.

Today, his frequent adventures into the park include mountain-biking, skiing (cross-country and downhill), hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and climbing (both rock and ice). A long-time newspaper reporter and avid outdoor photographer, he also writes for a number of regional and national magazines about the outdoors and other issues. Alan’s piece for Adirondack Life, Ski to Die, is an International Regional Magazine Association first-place feature-writing winner.

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