HOT SPRINGS | Petra Wilson, principle organizer of the Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival, has had a vision of what a local balloon festival might be for some time now – ever since she and her family moved to Hot Springs in 2015.
Come Saturday, Aug. 26, and Sunday, Aug. 27, she will find out how closely that vision matches reality.
Wilson – with the help of the Hot Springs Area Chamber of Commerce along with sponsors Nelson's Oil & Gas, Ace Hardware, Black Hills Federal Credit Union, Fall River Health Services, Sonny’s Super Foods and The Mammoth Site –has turned her vision into a reality.
Wilson, a former U.S. Navy F-18 service crew member who served on an aircraft carrier, became hot-air ballooning 15 years ago when she and her husband attended a balloon festival in Illinois.
From that point on, Wilson said, she and husband Brian were hooked. She accumulated more than 100 hours of hot air balloon time, earned her pilot’s license, and has been ballooning ever since.
When she and her family came to Hot Springs, she wanted to continue her balloon passion in the West River region.
In the fall of 2016, Wilson gathered together several other balloon enthusiasts, for a trial run at what might happen with a balloon festival. Later, when Wilson walked into the Chamber of Commerce and poised the suggestio of ahot air balloon festival, Executive Secretary Olivia Mears's eyes grew wide.
“Absolutely," Mears told her.
The Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival could draw as many as 300 people to Hot Springs. Wilson's sister-in-law, a Minnesota travel advisor, for example, is booking several busloads of Minnesotans in for the weekend, she said.
The festival kicks off early Saturday morning -- between 5 and 6 a.m., at the Hot Springs Airport. Pilots will take customers on hour-long flights, weather permitting, Wilson said. From a balloonist’s perspective, weather permitting is winds moving in the single digits and no rain, she said.
The balloon rides can be booked in advance through Black Hills Balloons at a cost of $295 per adult, $245 for children ages 4-12. Call (605) 673-2520 for more information, or visit http://www.blackhillsballoons.com/; email@example.com.
In addition there will be displays at the airport and breakfast by Morning Sunshine and 4-H.
From 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., the other elements of aviation take over, with glider rides and tandem skydiving.
The Hot Springs Glider Club will demonstrate their aircraft, offering glider rides, showing how gliders work, taking off and landing from the city airport. Glider rides can be purchased at the airport, $75 per person for a flight.
The Hot Springs Sky Diving Club will be doing tandem sky dive jumps over the airport. These rides must be purchased ahead of time through http://www.skydivehotsprings.com/Tandem.html. The cost is $295 per jump, and there is a 210 pound weight limit for those who would like to jump.
Also, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., in downtown Hot Springs, there will be an Art Walk & Chalk, featuring art and the opportunity for visitors to inscribe their own artwork on Hot Springs sidewalks.
At about 8 p.m., the Saturday finale of the first day of the festival takes place, a balloonists’ “Night Glow” at Southern Hills Golf Course – weather permitting again.
Music and refreshments will also be available during the night glow.
Sunday, ballooning ramps up again, with more flights at 6 a.m. Also that day, from 4 to 6 p.m., the Pioneer Museum will offer a Cemetery History Walk, at the Evergreen Cemetery in Hot Springs.
To keep up to date on festival events, visit the festival’s Facebook page facebook.com/events/440194063034082/.