HOT SPRINGS – “Everything begins with an idea.”

That is a quote recently stated at the Black Hills & Badlands (BH&B) Tourism Association annual meeting where the Hot Springs Area Chamber of Commerce was presented the 2017 Special Achievement for its work in creating and promoting this past year’s Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival. The event and presentation took place at the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn in Rapid City on Wednesday, Oct. 25.

According to information from the BH&B – the organization responsible for the Black Hills Visitor Center in Rapid City, the South Dakota Vacation Guide and many other marketing efforts throughout the year for the Black Hills region – each year, the association presents just one Special Achievement Award. This award recognizes a person, event, organization, or business that has made a significant impact on the tourism economy of the Black Hills and Badlands region.

The motto “everything begins with an idea,” fits Hot Springs and the hot air balloon event because, after all, it was the idea of an individual, supported by a cooperative effort of community leaders and the Chamber of Commerce, which blossomed into a full-blown festival. Only in its second year, this free, two-day event drew hundreds of visitors into Hot Springs this past August, the BH&B said.

“Comprised of hot air balloon launches, a Night Glow, and an Art Walk & Chalk event, this festival not only celebrates varieties of air traffic, but it encourages attendees to visit downtown retailers by facilitating ‘pop-up galleries’ located all throughout town. The increased traffic brought in by festival attendees also serves to benefit accommodations, restaurants, and attractions,” the BH&B said.

According to media coordinator Justin Gausman with the Hot Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, one of the opportunities the BH&B offers to help local communities in the region to be able to market events or activities is called the Regional Matching Challenge Grant.

“The Chamber submitted a grant application to try to attain funds to better market the Balloon Festival and the Chamber was ultimately awarded the grant, which helped pay for additional radio ads, banners, and both digital and print advertising to expand upon what the Chamber was already planning on doing marketing-wise,” Gausman said.

The idea for the hot air balloon festival, which had its first attempted run in June of 2016 with just four balloons, was the brain child of local hot air balloonist Petra Wilson, who said it was something she first thought of after moving to Hot Springs from eastern South Dakota in 2015. After the first-ever event was received positively by the community, she pushed to grow the event in 2017, and with the help of many members of the Hot Springs Chamber – including then Chamber Secretary and now the new Executive Director Olivia Mears – she said, “the vision became a reality.”

“Olivia handled the ‘event’ end of things and I handled the ‘balloon’ end of things and together with the support of then Executive Director Scott Haden, we took an idea and brought it to life by gathering sponsors, vendors, volunteers and others to make our Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival a reality.”

Wilson said being awarded the BH&B grant was huge, because it made it possible for her group to go big on the advertising. “We received tremendous support and encouragement from the community and the hard work paid off this August when we saw between 800-1,000 people attending our 2nd Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival,” she said.

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“It definitely took a lot of time and effort to make it all happen,” Wilson said. “I am most grateful for the way Hot Springs and the surrounding communities were supportive of the event. This event would not have been possible without the group effort and generous support we received from pilots, crew, sponsors, volunteers, landowners and everyone else who helped to make this event a success. All of us are very grateful and proud of the 2017 Special Achievement award!”

Wilson added that the pilots of the 10 balloons who participated this past year were very impressed with the event and the community.

“The pilots who came to our festival loved our small town hospitality and were very warmly received by our community,” she said. “They were welcomed to town by our Mayor, George Kotti, as well as our sponsors, local crew members, and volunteers. We even had an Art show opening/cocktail party in their honor hosted by Chautauqua Artisan Market. They were impressed with the meals that we put on for them and they thought the pilot packs they received were thoughtful and unique. They also loved our Southern Hills Golf Course where we held the night glow. They had such a wonderful experience that they are all planning to come back for next year’s festival.”

Wilson added that next year’s 3rd annual event – slated for the weekend of Aug. 25-26, 2018, and now set as an annual gathering on that date so as not to conflict with other balloon events around the country – is expected to possibly double in size, in terms of the amount of hot air balloons participating.

“Word of mouth has been spreading about the Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival since this past August, and our pilot list has been growing as a result,” Wilson said. “We are estimating that next year’s festival will have between 15-20 hot air balloons. We have already started to work on some of the details for next year’s festival and are planning to have a mass hot air balloon launch on Saturday and Sunday morning, as well as a Saturday night glow. We plan to bring more things into town, but as we are in the planning stages, I can’t give much away, but we encourage everyone to visit the Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival Facebook page and click ‘like’ to keep up to date on the latest developments.”

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