GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On Thursday in downtown Glens Falls, it started with two elected officials and a banner. Said banner was carried by Assemblyman Matthew Simpson and Senator Dan Stec in honor of the Adirondack Balloon Festival, as the pair led a pipe and drum band and a series of trucks carrying balloon baskets up the length of Glen Street.
Onlookers in the dozens gathered on the side of the road to wave hello, in numbers that only grew as the parade grew closer to its ultimate destination: Crandall Park. There, hundreds more were gathered to celebrate 50 years of hot air balloons and community in Glens Falls and Queensbury. In an opening ceremony at the Crandall Park bandstand, the face of the festival’s organizer group highlighted exactly how much has happened in those 50 years.
“If you were to attend any balloon event in this nation, any of these pilots would tell you this is the most unique one – period,” Donahue said to a crowd of onlookers. “We are now the third-largest in the nation; the largest on the east coast; the second-largest in the nation. That speaks volumes, folks.”
Donahue’s fellow members of the festival’s organizing board couldn’t join him onstage. He pointed out why – they, volunteers just like him, could be found helping with pilot registration for the more than 70 hot air balloons set to take flight over the city across the coming days. Others were helping with the 50/50 raffle that generates some of the funding that keeps the festival free and helps it thrive.
The first of those 70+ balloons lit up Queensbury at a moonglow – where balloons light up the night sky – during Wednesday night’s commencement event. More would be seen in Glens Falls on Thursday evening, starting off with a special treat. A birthday cake-shaped balloon slowly inflated around a growing crowd, to be manned by a pilot who’s come to the festival for more than two decades.
“I’ve been coming here since 2001 – the year of 9/11,” said balloonist Keith Sproul, of New Jersey. “I’ve been here a lot of years. I was just crewing and starting at my license at that time, and I’ve only ever missed one or two.”
The cake is just the latest that Sproul has brought to the Adirondacks over the years. Longtime festival fans will know him as the pilot of Pandy the Panda, Scorchy the Dragon, as well as pig and rabbit shapes and a red, white, and blue triangle emblazoned with a quartet of stars.
Any balloon festival is determined by weather, and volunteers were keeping an eye on the state of things in Glens Falls’ clear blue sky to make sure that ten balloons could take to the sky for the evening. Sproul’s best advice: Don’t fly too far north, or the wind effects of Lake George could cause problems.
The 50th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival maintains a schedule of events running through the weekend, with launches hosted at Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury. This year’s festival was also marked earlier in the year when the city of Glens Falls received a visit by a delegation from its sister city of Saga, Japan – which first formed a bond with the North Country over a shared cultural appreciation of balloons taking to the sky.