ASHLAND – Rain kept hot air balloons grounded on the first night of the 27th annual Ashland BalloonFest.

The BalloonFest’s Thursday evening Balloon Glow Encounter and media flight were both canceled due to poor weather conditions, but several of the 28 pilots brought their balloon baskets onto Freer Field for guests to see up-close during an early break in the weather.  

“We approach every balloon activity with safety first,” said BalloonFest public relations chairwoman Misty Miller. “And we’ll hold off if there is a slight chance the weather could change and become conducive.”

Optimistic, crew members waited for a “window of opportunity.” They unloaded their baskets for a short period, but couldn’t connect the balloons. Later, they quickly packed back up as dark clouds rolled in.

“They do what they can,” Miller said. “They love the sport, and they try to give people the best show possible.”

This year 28 pilots will participate in the BalloonFest. They come from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana and even South Carolina.

Anthony Seeger first attended the Ashland Balloonfest last year. The man of South Carolina loves ballooning. He encountered his first balloon at 11-months-old and bought his own at age 22.

 “It’s a smaller event, but I enjoy it,” Seegel said. “It’s a new area to fly.”

Now, he attends about 15 ballooning events each year with his balloon, Carolina Twist. “Carolina” as in his home state, and “Twist” for the color pattern.

Mark Woodard of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania began ballooning about six years ago.

“I took a ride and started training (to pilot one) the next day,” he said.

He welcomed people his balloon basket, allowing several to pull the lever, which shoots off fiery, hot air into the sky. This is typically what’s used to keep the balloons afloat, but without the balloons attached, the lever sends propane flames into the air.

Woodard also flies planes, but he seems to favor ballooning.

“It’s almost magical,” he said. “You’re going the same speed as the wind.”

Balloon glows are set to take place at dusk Friday and Saturday nights, weather permitting. Pilots line up their balloons and shoot propane flames into the balloons to synchronized to music.

Admission to the festival is free. The Balloon Glow Encounter lets visitors buy a ticket which allows four people to sit on the Launch Field during the glow.

Thursday evening’s Miller Hawkins Fresh Foods Backyard BBQ drew a crowd early in the evening, and live entertainment was provided by Ashland’s Tom’s Kitchen Table.

New additions to this year’s festival include two photo booths – one by Coffy Creations and a selfie booth – and the Donley Ford Drive 4UR Community. For every eligible test drive taken in a Donley Ford vehicle at Freer Field from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., Donley Ford will donate $20 to Ashland BalloonFest, up to $6,000.

The Friday morning flight into Freer Field was canceled late Thursday evening due to expected poor weather conditions.

To read more about Ashland BalloonFest activities, read our previous story here

The Life section is supported by Brethren Care Village in Ashland.

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