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Festival of flight

06/11/2014 10:58AM, Published by ACL, Categories: In Print, Arts+Entertainment



By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

The Chester County Balloon Festival will reach new heights when it returns to Plantation Field in Unionville on Friday, June 13 and Saturday, June 14. The event has been growing in each of its first seven years, and the 2014 installment will feature more hot air balloons, activities, and vendors than ever before.

“The weekend activities at the Balloon Festival appeal to both locals and travelers and it is a very family-friendly event,” said Susan Hamley, the new executive director of the  Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau.

The opportunity to see the launch of the colorful hot air balloons up close is a rare visual spectacle that provides attendees with a day filled with fun—and lasting memories of the awe-inspiring event.

“Everybody loves the balloons. They are beautiful,” explained Vicki Moretti, a co-director of the festival who was a part of the initial group that launched the Chester County Balloon Festival eight years ago.

This is the only balloon festival in the area and it attracts visitors from all over. Moretti said that last year people come from as far away as Maryland and Virginia for rides in the balloons. One couple from Pittsburgh even made the balloon festival a part of their wedding plans.

Organizers are pleased with what the event has grown into during the last eight years.

Initially, the balloon festival was a fundraiser for West Bradford Youth Athletics. Organizers knew that there had been a successful balloon festival in Pennsbury for about a decade, but that event had ended. The thinking was that a balloon festival was unique enough to be a good fundraiser. They were right. What started as a one-day event with three or four balloons that attracted about 500 people has turned into one of Chester County’s largest annual events, a two-day festival of fun that attracts more visitors each year. 

“We’ve had more than 10,000 people attend over the two days,” Moretti explained.

In early 2013, it was decided that the event had out-grown its original purpose. Moretti and a core group of balloon festival organizers took the balloon festival in a new direction, moving it to Plantation Field and selecting different local beneficiaries.

This year, the beneficiaries include the Garage Youth & Community Center based in Kennett Square, the Downingtown West Wrestling team, the Po Mar Lin Fire Company and the Plantation Field Horse Trials. According to Moretti, the opportunity to give back to local non-profit organizations was a major reason why organizers wanted to make sure that the event continued.

“We get to give money to local organizations,” Moretti said. “This event is something that is so Chester County. This will be our second year at Plantation Field. It’s a much better location visually. We had really outgrown where we were.”

Attendees have tremendous views of the balloons as they are launched in waves. Moretti said that gates for this year’s event open at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 13 and 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 14 to coincide with the best time of the day to launch balloons. The balloon launches take place in the few hours after sunrise and the few hours before sunset because of wind conditions and other factors.

“The balloons don’t fly in the afternoons,” Moretti said.

The Balloon Festival collaborates with Air Ventures Hot Air Balloon Flights out of Chester Springs, Pa. for all things related to the hot air balloons including pilot coordination, weather conditions, passenger rides, etc.

The balloon festival also includes dozens of vendors, ranging from local favorites like Hood’s BBQ to national ones like Rita’s Water Ice, a variety of clothing and jewelry merchants, crafters, and non-profit organizations with information booths. Each day of the festival has its own lineup of activities.

On Friday evening, the gates open at 5 p.m. A mass launch of the balloons takes place at 6 p.m. The Victory Brewing VIP Party, which requires a ticket purchased in advance, begins at 7 p.m. The VIP Party ticket includes tent seating, VIP parking, a catered buffet, live music, and access to the Victory Brew Pub where Victory beer and Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery wines will be available. The Night Glow, with hot air balloons providing a stunning light display, starts at 8:30 p.m.

On Saturday, gates open at 3 p.m. The main stage will feature the Caribbean sounds of Riddem Nation.

Activities for children will include far-flung bungy, the goldfish game, water wars, a moonbounce, tethered hot air balloon rides, and a walk-through balloon where children can kick balls around a retired balloon. Saturday festivities include an evening launch, a special shapes show that is not to be missed, and a glow show to end the evening.

All the balloon event times, Moretti said, are approximate and dependent on the weather and wind conditions. They can go early, late or not at all depending on conditions.

“Safety,” Moretti explained, “is always our first priority.” 

There is a $10-per-car admission fee. While some activities at the festival require additional fees, the balloon festival is one of the most affordable and fun family-friendly events in the area.

“We are thrilled to have the Chester County Balloon Festival to promote as one of the many exciting events in the region,” said Hamley. “The location {Plantation Field} at one of our stellar equestrian facilities is a bonus for cross promotion.”

The beautiful Chester County countryside provides a perfect backdrop for the balloons.

“This is a chance to spend a beautiful day in a beautiful place,” Moretti said. “It’s a nice day, and very laid-back.”

To make a reservation for a balloon ride or for more information about this year’s balloon festival, visit www.CCBalloonFest.com

*** 

The Chester County Balloon Festival is sponsored by Suburban Propane, Horizon Services, Inc. Karen Boyd of Long and Foster Real Estate, Terese Winkler Photography, PA Leadership Schools, and Susquehanna Bank. 


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