High expectations

Harvest Moon and Balloon Fest returns to Troy

By Melissa Markham

Photo: The Miami County Harvest Moon and Balloon Festival takes place Friday-Sunday, Oct. 3-5; photo: Heather Taylor

As fall’s chill brings our season of fairs and festivals to a gentle close, the city of Troy prepares to host one of the largest, most extravagant fests in its history. With no admission fee for children 12 and under and just a $5 fee for other attendees, guests of this year’s Harvest Moon and Balloon Fest can enjoy horse-drawn wagon rides, zip lining, wine tastings from three area wineries, a car show, helicopter rides, a rock-climbing wall, free mini-golf, free pumpkins and pumpkin decorating, a kite building and flying workshop, an animal meet-and-greet with guests from the Columbus zoo and of course, the main event: the opportunity to watch 15 hot air balloons “glow” both Friday and Saturday nights and launch each day after sunrise and just before sunset. This is going to be a fest of all fests, and something you definitely won’t want to miss.

Diana Thompson, executive director of the Miami County Visitors and Convention Bureau and chief orchestrator of this year’s fest, could not be more excited to kick things off. “This is not your typical festival,” she said. “It’s such an inexpensive way to come out and enjoy time with the family, especially since there’s not much cost involved.”

Throwing an event this elaborate would be impossible without the help of area sponsors, Thompson said, particularly The Troy Foundation, celebrating 90 years of “Home.Grown.Giving.”

With expectations high for both the helicopter and hot air balloon rides, Thompson’s only wish is for extraordinary weather. Last year’s weather forced the fest’s hosts to cancel one of the days entirely.

“In spite of the bad weather last year, we still had an overwhelmingly positive response,” Thompson said. “Any event is susceptible to weather, but we’re planning on a big year. I would love to see 8,000–10,000 people at this year’s event, and we’re capable of handling even more than that.”

Mike Gliatti, the chief pilot of Bella Balloons and the fest’s chief balloon coordinator, first started bringing his balloons to the Miami County Fair several years ago.

“At first, Diana asked if I could have three to five balloons take off while the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ played, and the community was very responsive,” Gliatti said. “Everyone kept calling and asking if the balloons would be back. Because the response was so strong, we said, ‘I’m not sure if it would be of interest, but what if we made this a balloon event?’”

During the fest, two of the 15 anticipated balloons will be providing “tethered” rides, which allow riders the opportunity to go up 70 feet in the air and come back to the ground. The cost of a tethered balloon ride is $10 per person. Full-fledged balloon rides will also be available for $200 per person.

“A lot of work goes into the full hot air balloon experience,” Gliatti said. “Once in the air, weather permitting, it’s a 45-minute to an hour ride, while a chase crew follows.” A chase crew, he explained, is a car in charge of following the balloon to the place it lands and returning the pilot and passengers to their starting location. “We never know where we’re going to land, but that part is sort of fun,” Gliatti said. “Everyone who can see we’re close comes outside to watch us, and when we’re close enough to shout, we always ask permission to land on their property, which people are excited about. They’re always waving us in by the time we even ask.”

Keeping with tradition, Gliatti said, anyone who signs up for a balloon ride celebrates landing with a provided bottle of champagne, as did the first-ever passengers of hot air balloons. When invented in the 1780s, hot air balloons would often scare or anger spectators, so a champagne toast was offered to the land owners who allowed the balloon to land on their property, to assure they were fellow countrymen and meant no harm.

In addition to the endless list of activities for both children and adults during this year’s fest, two bands, The American Kings and The Floorwalkers, will perform Friday and Saturday night. The American Kings are a popular ’50s and ’60s cover band, while The Floorwalkers were invited to tour with Mumford and Sons on their Gentlemen of the Road tour and are rapidly gaining popularity.

“We were looking for a different type of band, something great for a younger crowd,” Thompson said. “We got a hold of them and they were more than happy to perform; we can’t wait for everyone to hear them.”

More than the rides, the balloons, the endless activities and the exhaustive preparation, Thompson is excited to be able to host something for Ohio residents to enjoy with their friends and families. “These fests really bring the surrounding areas together,” she said. “I remember joking with the younger children last year about their free pumpkins and telling them they could only take one small enough to carry for mommy, and oh, you should have seen these children struggling to carry the biggest ones they could!” Thompson said.

With enough fun scheduled for every possible age group and area of interest, there’s no doubt Oct. 3–5 will be a weekend impossible to forget.

The 2014 Miami County Harvest Moon and Balloon Fest will take place Friday-Sunday, Oct. 3–5. Times are 4–10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Sunday. Diane Thompson is still looking for volunteers for the fest as well, and asks that anyone interested contact her directly at 937.339.1044. For more information, please visit miamicountyohiofair.com/balloonfest.

Reach DCP freelance writer Melissa Markham at MelissaMarkham@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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