Cathy’s handy tips to enjoy the Balloon Festival

Chronicle Managing Editor Cathy DeDe advises:

  • Please be patient. Hot air balloons fly weather-permitting only. Safety is key.
  • My Number One suggestion: Get to the airport for a morning launch. Yes, it’s painfully early, and the cars are lined up by 4:30 a.m., well before the gates open, but there’s nothing like the excitement of 100 hot air balloons rising with the sun while bleary-eyed thousands cheer them on. Sunday morning is “Walter’s Mass Ascension,” when all the balloons go up at the same time, in memory of event founder, the late Walter Griskhot.
  • Wear waterproof shoes, winter boots or rain boots, especially for morning launches, when the ground is often cold and wet. Dress warmly, in layers. Hats and gloves are a help. Not kidding.
  • No dogs. No drones. Both are extremely dangerous to balloons. Organizer Mark Donahue tells his own harrowing story of a drone encounter at a balloon fest in Stowe, Vt., that could have ended much worse.
  • Hang around outside the pilots’ tent before launches to catch the balloonmeister’s announcements and the weather report. Don’t interfere with the pilots; they need the info most.
  • Get there early for the Big Balloon Breakfast. Starting at 6 a.m., fill up and warm up and support Open Door Mission, in a tent across from the hangar this year, as the hangar undergoes renovation. Still a worthwhile cause and another bleary community “moment.”
  • Parking! Two entry points: Enter Warren County Airport from Ridge Road, Route 9L, via the Airport’s added access road — or via the airport gate on Hicks Road, which had been the access point until last year. Gates open at 4:30 a.m. Find maps on the website, VIP parking is sold out.
  • Handicapped parking with permits: All vehicles with handicapped person tags should enter via Hicks Road, where they will be directed to special parking areas that are more accessible to balloon launches.
  • Admission is free, and there’s plentiful free parking — but you can spend money and help the cause, too. Purchases — from official Balloon Fest souvenirs to coffee and hot chocolate, the Zonta craft fair and children’s activities like a climbing wall and bounce houses — help fund the event, and local non-profits.
  • Donations at the gate help support overtime costs of the Warren County DPW.
  • Avoid traffic jam: Arrive in afternoon for early evening launches. Linger at the airport after the morning launch.
  • Enjoy the activities. Zonta’s craft fair is back. There are more food vendors, kids’ activities, a balloon art show, kites and other activities to keep busy before or after the balloons launch.
  • Bring flashlights for navigating back to the car after the Moonglow on Saturday night at the airport.
  • You can get up close to the balloons before they lift off, but don’t touch, and keep your feet off the balloons when they’re laid out. Only help if you’re asked. (You can offer.)
  • Your help, especially if you’re there when a balloon lands, is usually welcome. The goal is to keep the balloon “envelope” off the damp ground and get it packed up as quickly as possible.
  • Plan ahead to chase a balloon after the launch. Park outside the airport to avoid traffic. Have along a balloon spotter, a navigator with a map, and be sure you’ve got enough gas. Tip: The balloons often drift east into Washington County when they’re leaving the airport.
  • Bring a camera. Or be sure you phone is charged! Think you caught “the” great shot? Enter the annual Balloon Festival Photo contest.
  • Thursday is unofficial ‘Locals Day’ at Crandall Park everyone is there! Even with slightly fewer balloons this year, it’s elevating. But leave your dogs home. Sunday at Crandall is for the exhausted, the last-chancers, celebration day when the balloons got to fly a bunch.

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