Balloon Festival directors plan move to Willowdale
● By J. Chambless
The Chester County Balloon Festival, which has been attracting fans, families and photographers for 13 years, will move to the Willowdale Steeplechase grounds in 2020, pending final approval by East Marlborough Township supervisors.
Event organizer Rick Schimpf brought his presentation to the supervisors meeting on Nov. 4, explaining that several officials in the township already had his written plans and summary of the event. At the meeting, the board gave unanimous approval to a permit for June 26, 27 and 28, 2020, but they had plenty of questions and expressed their reservations about the logistics.
Schimpf, accompanied by fellow director Debbie Harding, said that the plans to move the location were prompted by the increased business and activities at the New Garden Airport, as well as difficulty with parking and traffic control at the Plantation Field grounds on Route 82, which were two previous sites.
Schimpf recited the features that the festival will offer, adding that, over the three days, they expect an attendance of between 16,000 and 20,000 people. In addition to the spectacle of about 25 hot-air balloons in the sky, those who want to experience the thrill of ascending skyward will have the chance to take a balloon ride. Helicopter rides, two nights of fireworks, food trucks, a beer garden, monster truck rides and an invitation to tailgate will also be available.
Some board members voiced concerns, first regarding traffic control. Schimpf said there will be a heavy police presence, like the one seen at the Willowdale Steeplechase every May. The parking will be the same as that for the Unionville Community Fair. “The steeplechase grounds are easy to get in and out of,” Schimpf said.
Board member Buzz Hannum asked about tailgating and alcohol usage and if there was a possibility it would get out of control. Schimpf said the tailgating would be limited to the field that, during the community fair, held the antique cars. Visitors would have to buy their wine and beer at the festival, rather than being able to bring it in.
Others were concerned about the effect on the community, especially the local horse farms. “Horses are afraid of the fireworks and balloons,” then-board candidate Shelley Mincer said.
Supervisors McKinstry added, “And especially helicopters!”
Schimpf said flight times would be controlled and the helicopters would certainly not be in the air with the balloons. The public would be given fair warning of the schedule of what would be going on that weekend as well.
Supervisor Bobby McKinstry asked if Schimpf had checked with Longwood Gardens to make sure the festival would not coincide with performances on that weekend. Planning Commission chairman Cuyler Walker said he believed there would be no conflict.
In other business:
Supervisors chairman John Sarro announced that Township Manager Laurie Prysock has tendered her resignation and will be taking another job. There will be a search for a replacement.
Mike Fuller of Keystone Lighting Solutions gave a detailed report on the progress of an assessment of township needs regarding streetlights. The board will act on proceeding with a project to replace the current lights with LED bulbs at next month’s meeting.
The 2020 township budget will be advertised 20 days in advance of the December meeting, at which time it will be voted on.
The township is in the midst of a pedestrian crossing safety project in front of Unionville High School. Because of a mix-up years ago at the signing of a clause which addressed constructing the right of way to federal standards, there is still $38,900 owed, which the supervisors voted unanimously to pay.