HUDSONVILLE, MI — Despite potential weather setbacks, more than a dozen hot air balloons are set to take flight during this weekend’s annual Grand Rapids Balloon Festival.
The fifth annual festival continues Friday and Saturday nights at the Hudsonville fairgrounds at 5235 Park Ave. The festival kicked off Thursday night at Ah-Nab-Awen Park in Grand Rapids.
Although the weather calls for rain Friday and Saturday, the festival will go on even if the balloons are grounded.
“For safety reasons, if it is raining we can’t have the balloons go up, but we still have a ton of activities for people of all ages,” said Megan Sikkenga, director of office solutions for RE/MAX of Grand Rapids, which is sponsoring the event.
Hot air ballooning is a weather-dependent sport, so rain, strong winds and weather phenomena can prevent pilots from becoming airborne.
But if the 13 hot air balloons can’t lift off, there are other activities the public can engage in while they wait to see if skies clear, Sikkenga said.
For a $5 entrance fee, attendees can experience live music, food trucks, carnival games, a pilot meet-and-greet, inflatables, craft booths and other activities while staying indoors.
“We are going to post updates as best we can on our Facebook page. That’s the best way to get updates on the weather,” Sikkenga said.
Friday’s portion of the festival will run from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Balloon launches are scheduled for 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. both days and admission closes at 9 p.m.
Scott Strouse, of Midland, is among the hot air balloon pilots who hope to fly during the festival.
“Very rarely do we have a whole weekend that it doesn’t work [because of the weather], but we do our best.” said Strouse, who has been flying for 23 years. “Most of the time, you can get a morning in or an evening in. The winds tend to settle down in the evening, so the glows tend to be pretty successful.”
Those “glows” are another part of the festival — and might be the public’s favorite part, he said.
The Night Glow is when all 13 balloons inflate on the field at dusk. When skies get dark, the pilots blast their burners and their balloons are illuminated.
“[They look like] giant Christmas lights,” he said. “It’s probably the thing that we see the crowd like the most.”
Crew member Tom Jones, of Climax, has been involved with hot air balloons for 26 years and travels to balloon festivals across Michigan.
Jones said the Grand Rapids Balloon Festival is a favorite because of its donations to charity.
“Each balloon event is unique. They all have their own personalities and that reflects the people who run them,” Jones said. “This one I like because it’s a charity event.”
All of the festival’s proceeds will support the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and the West Michigan Veterans Coalition. Activities that require a small fee, like caricatures and henna tattoos, will also donate either all or a portion of their proceeds to the charities.
“It’s a core value of our brokerage to give back to the community and just give them a fun family event for all ages,” Sikkenga said. “There’s all kinds of things to do if it’s raining, so we hope that people will still come out and we can watch the weather.”