DANSVILLE – Hundreds of people were looking to the sky in Dansville to get a glimpse of the balloons taking part in the the 40th annual New York State Festival of Balloons during Labor Day weekend.
“I have never been here before and I love seeing all of the balloons and all of the people having a good time,” said Amy Zimmerman, a Lockport resident.
On their feet and in lawn chairs, people of all ages packed the Dansville Municipal Airport, 176 Franklin St., to see the balloons.
“I just like being around fun people,” said Phyllis Stallard of Grand Island. “They are larger than what I had imagined.”
This year’s festival offered a different take on the annual “glow,” a post-sunset event in which balloons are inflated but remain tethered to the ground. The flame inside illuminates the balloon, creating a stunning sight. Past festivals would host a glow the night before the festival, but this year the glows featured several balloons at the airport after each night’s launch.
“The balloons are amazing. I am here with my husband and just enjoying the beautiful weather,” said Darlene Hookstra of West Bloomfield.
The desirable wind speed for a balloon launch is below 8 mph, but balloonists must also be concerned with winds speeds in the atmosphere’s upper levels, which can be two or three times faster than surface winds.
Pilots, the balloonmeister, and other officials meet in the half hour before each scheduled launch to discuss wind speeds – both at ground level and aloft – visibility and conditions in nearby locations such as storms to determine whether it is safe to proceed with a launch.
The festival got off to a strong start with launch on Friday evening and Saturday morning and evening. But gusty winds on Sunday canceled both of the day’s launches, and Monday’s final launch was canceled due to high winds and thunderstorms in the region.
“It is a team activity,” explained Carroll Teitsworth, a balloon pilot. “In a balloon, you are more like one with the wind and you are drifting with the wind. People on the ground respond to you. They wave and they yell.”
One of those waving was Helen Kral from Gainesille.
“I love to watch the balloons go up. They used to have 20 or 30 of them go up and it has really downsized. Maybe it is from COVID, I do not know,” she said. “I love the balloons. Now my husband is saying we are not going to be coming much more because it has gotten so much smaller.”
The balloon festival can trace it roots back to Dansville’s Allen family, who were aerial daredevils and innovators who traveled the country entertaining audiences with death-defying students for decades. The festival began with the Greit Balloon Rally as part of an Oktoberfest celebration in 1982. The festival, which attracts an average of 35,000 visitors each year, grew to be designated in 1997 as the New York State Festival of Balloons by the state Legislature.
A volunteer staff organizes the annual event which, since 1990, has donated more than $200,000 to area community service organizations and programs.
In addition to balloons, the festival also includes arts and craft vendors, an international food court, rides for kids and on Sunday a car show.
“They are awesome,” said Pam Boss of Lancaster, who visited the festival Saturday evening. “I like the character balloons better and they are just amazing when they do up and is it just a perfect night.”