Corbin H. Crable
chc[email protected]
Hot air balloon enthusiasts will have their chance to fly high this weekend when the city of Gardner hosts the 2010 Kansas City Hot Air Balloon Invitational.
The event, organized and sponsored by Old World Balloonery, will take place Saturday, May 29 through Monday, May 31 at Celebration Park, 159th Street and Kill Creek Road. The event is free and open to the public. Proceeds from the event will benefit The RockStar Foundation, an organization devoted to raising awareness about autism.
This is the first time the city has hosted the event, which has been held annually since 2008.
The three-day event will include a competition flight each morning, in which pilots ascend and navigate their balloons over a target on the ground. The goal is to be the first to drop a marker on the target from up above.
“A balloon race is a race for accuracy, not a race for speed,” said event organizer Jason Jones of Old World Balloonery.
In addition to the competition flights, the invitational will boast a question-and-answer session with balloon pilots, a kite flight, jazz music, food, vendors, souvenirs and a balloon walk, in which event organizers will inflate the balloons and place them on their side so children can walk around and play inside them.
Saturday and Sunday nights also will include a night glow, in which several balloons will be stood up in the dark and then lit up “like light bulbs,” Jones said.
He added that those who wish to see Gardner from a balloon pilot’s perspective can pay $150 per person to ride in them. Balloon reservations are made on a first-come, first-served basis.
“I’ve got some balloons that are already full, and some that have availability,” Jones said.
Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Stewart said that although the city is not a sponsor of the event, it plans to support the invitational in other ways besides hosting the venue.
“We’ll support the event with some of the cleanup duties,” he said. “Public safety also will be on site. Since there’s fuel involved (in powering the balloons), they’ll be on site to make sure things are safe for the public.”
Stewart said Jones contacted the city a year ago about hosting the invitational.
“I met with him and we discussed Celebration Park,” Stewart said. “He looked at the site and felt that would be a terrific area to host the event.”
Stewart said that in addition to the other activities, the city will host a concession stand – and, of course, the park’s playground will be available for use.
Weather forecasts call for sunny skies with highs in the low 80s for the weekend; Jones said that, if the weather cooperates, he expects a strong turnout for the event.
“Free entertainment is always a positive, and I have yet to find a child who isn’t completely fascinated by hot air balloons,” he said. “Kansas City has a long history of hot air ballooning, and we’re trying to bring it back to the community and make this an event that balloon enthusiasts want to attend every year.”
Stewart said that between the Gardner Aquatic Center opening on Saturday and the hot air balloon invitational taking place until Monday, Gardner will be the place to be for weekend entertainment.
“This will be a good way for everyone to spend their Memorial Day weekend,” Stewart said. “There’s a lot of fun to have here in town this weekend.”
For more information, including a schedule of events and to register to ride in a hot air balloon, visit the Web site of the 2010 Kansas City Hot Air Balloon Invitational at www.kchabi.com.