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I have always loved hot air balloons for their simple, optimistic silhouette. Their air, fabric, and basket construction is so picturesque against the sky, and yet they bob along in stripes and whorls of irresistible color at a low altitude, as though they cannot bear to be parted from the earth. The sight of a hot air balloon is delightful, and to ride in one is even more so, but a festival of dozens over the Ozarks, bedecked in fall foliage, is something else altogether.
This is offered at the 20th Annual Hot Air Balloon State Championship, September 11-13 in Downtown Harrison. Think of it as an Olympic event for hot air balloons. I can only imagine how much fun it would be to pilot a balloon and compete in these games, but it’s equally fun to attend and spectate with a group of friends or family, while also enjoying the other events that weekend: a car parade, kid carnival, and art festival. Nearly four thousand visitors arrived last year to enjoy the balloons, which come from all over the country. At least twenty balloons have registered to appear this year.
The balloon races begin Friday, September 11, at 6 pm with an exciting balloon race called the Hare and the Hound. In this race, one balloon (the “hare”) takes off and is allowed a head start; the rest of the balloons, “hounds,” quickly inflate and pursue the hare. The operator of the hare balloon lands and creates a large target on the field, upon which the hounds then try to make a bulls-eye with their markers. The hound with the closest target earns the highest score.
Saturday, September 12, a Key Grab will start at 7 am. Pilots will try to fly their balloons in to grab a ring from a tall pole. That evening at 6:30, there will be a balloon glow: grounded balloons will flare their burners to produce a gentle luminous effect of colorful balloons against the autumn evening. Tethered rides for $5 a person will be available at this time—not a bad rate to experience the sensation of a balloon flight (local hot air balloon businesses charge around $300 a person for an hour long ride).
September 12 will also be the 4th Annual Blue Sky Art Festival in Downtown Harrison, featuring local arts and crafts, music, and concessions, as well as the 5th Annual Charity Corvette Rally, which raises money for such worthy causes as The Green Beret Foundation, METavior, and No Greater Sacrifice. The car show will be Saturday morning at 7:30 around the square of Downtown Harrison. The 4th Annual CASA Kids Fest is occurring then, as well, providing inflatable structures, face painting, pony rides, and other activities for children. The final balloon event on Sunday, September 13, is another Key Grab. After this, one balloonist will return home with the prize of $20,000.
Cars, balloons, bounce houses, artwork: there will be something for everyone! Parking will be available at the soccer complex at 202 Old Stonewall Road. Since operation of the hot air balloons is subject to weather conditions, the balloon races may be postponed in case of bad weather; check the status on the website, but plan on attending anyway for the rest of the festivities that weekend in Harrison.
Photos provided by the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce.
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