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December 11, 2017
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Up, up and away!

Clever names for the balloons, like pilot Dave Markowitz’s “Wild Ride,” are more indicative of the artwork, rather than the flight itself.
TRR photos by Jonthan Charles Fox

By JONATHAN CHARLES FOX
October 5, 2016

The skies above Jeffersonville, NY were a bit gray last Saturday as the first-ever Hot Air Balloon Festival got underway, and weather plays an all-important role when it comes to safety. All in all, eight balloon pilots were scheduled to take to the air, traveling from the open field behind Dick’s Auto to the hills of the Villa Roma Resort, but only one was able to take off before the others were grounded due to high winds and the threat of rain on the horizon. Still, folks were able to visit with the pilots and check out the balloons, while some, including me, had the good fortune to get a bird’s-eye view of Jeffersonville while safely tethered to the ground.

Pilot Fred Barnes, with an assist from daughter Brittany, were able to allow passengers to rise into the air while volunteers helped keep the balloons steady, which gave visitors an opportunity to safely observe how the balloons are operated and learn about the art of ballooning. “I used to manufacture these,” Barnes told me while checking the rigging. “I was a commercial pilot and flew all over the world.” He continued, “Ballooning is different than any other form of flight, and when you’re up in the air, you feel more like a bird than a human.”

Pilot Steve Bliss agreed. “I’m like a kid in a candy store when flying,” Bliss said. “I’ve always been fascinated with anything that flies, and soaring through the skies in a hot air balloon is so peaceful, so gentle, it’s unlike anything else.” The balloons themselves have names, like “Sparkles,” “Catfish,” and “Firefly” and are really beautiful to see, both up close and of course, floating in the air.

While ballooning is often considered the safest form of aviation, the high, gusting winds and dark skies caused the inaugural festival to remain grounded. After sundown, the pilots lit the balloons from within for folks to see, and while they were scheduled to be on display past the nine o’clock hour, rain forced the crews to dismantle and pack up earlier than planned.

The festival program credits scores of businesses and individuals who contributed to sponsoring the event, and while the weather could have been more cooperative, the event itself was really fun, different, and a testament to the creative people of JEMS—proving that the organization (Jeffersonville Enhances More of Sullivan) continues to live up to its name.