By Konstantine Fekos
Spectators attending the 25th annual Thurston Classic Hot Air Balloon Event Friday evening saw the sponsor’s flight kick off to a rather unusual start — balloons took flight from individual locations beyond Allegheny College’s Robertson Field.
Wet, muddy conditions, like those that cancelled Thursday’s Night Glow, led the committee to scrap the usual mass-launch in favor of preserving the grounds as much as possible, according to Maury Sullivan, event director.
The Night Glow is tentatively rescheduled for tonight at 9:30 p.m. at Robertson Field.
“Conditions were not good enough (Thursday) night,” he said. “We hope that giving the field another day to dry will allow us to use the area (today).”
Nonetheless, a crowd of several hundred was treated to the sight of more than a dozen colorful balloons drifting through a clear blue sky.
The elephant-shaped balloon Pea-Nut made its anticipated debut Friday evening, launched to the collective cheers and chants of excited children.
“That’s got to be the cutest special shape I’ve ever seen,” said Ted Watts Sr., chair of the Thurston’s Operations Committee, addressing the applauding masses. “Get a picture, folks. That is incredible; a flying elephant.”
Pea-Nut and the multi-colored Day Dreamer were the only balloons launched from the field.
About 25 participating pilots were tasked with flying to the center of the field from their individual launch points and chasing Pea-Nut and Day Dreamer, according to Sullivan.
Trailing pilots threw streamers at targets in and around Robertson Field, with the closest one winning the event.
“It’s a good event for the community,” said Tammi Costello, First District Elementary School teacher and Thurston Classic volunteer. “School’s over, the kids get to come out and it’s a great way to kick off the summer.”
In return for their patronage, balloon sponsors from local businesses and families flew with their respective pilots.
While Thurston officials do not have an exact attendance count because the event was free, they agreed this year’s turnout was exceptional.
Watts hopes for an equally strong turnout for the maiden voyage of a newly-constructed gas balloon, rescheduled for about 6 or 7 a.m. today, he said. The balloon was originally scheduled to fly last Wednesday.
“It’s been a really good Friday crowd,” said Sandy Parker, committee member. “People have been very supportive.”
Parker, who helped operate the souvenier booth, will conclude at least seven years of service to the Thurston Classic after this weekend along with other long-time committee members like Lynn Nickerson.
“It’s been a good ride,” Nickerson said, working at the souvenier booth with her daughter-in-law and granddaughter. “It’s been fun. It brings our whole family out.”
“The volunteers are a really, really great crew of people,” Parker said, “and we’re relieved to turn over the reigns.”
Increased donations and souvenier sales have helped the Thurston Classic thrive in recent years, according to Parker, who said some local sponsors struggled to support the event because of the economy last year.
“We more than made up for it in donations and sales,” she said. “We’ve expanded from T-shirts and pins. People go into the crowd and sell; we take donations at the gates. It’s really been a benefit.”
This year, Thurston officials added merchandise and clothing catering to younger children and toddlers specifically.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating to find things with hot air balloons on them,” Parker said. “Adding the elephant helped. It was fun this year to buy things that were different.”
One particular item of Thurston Classic significance, a hand-stitched quilt made and donated by committee members approximately 10 years ago, is up for silent auction.
“It’s a valuable piece of art,” said Parker, mentioning each of the detailed hot air balloons in the quilted squares were stitched by different people. “It was donated by (former) committee member Nancy Manning.”
The auction reportedly closes today at 6:30 p.m. Officials expect to announce the highest bidder shortly thereafter.
Thurston officials also expressed their excitement regarding their next attempt at kicking off the annual Night Glow, rescheduled to tonight due to wet conditions on Thursday.
“People would like that,” Costello said. “The Glow is a favorite here. Pea-Nut draws a big crowd, too.”
Schedule of events
- Special launch of gas balloon — between 6 and 7 a.m.
A newly-constructed gas balloon is expected to launch from an enclosed area near the baseball field by Allegheny College’s Robertson Field.
- Sanctioned race No. 1 — 7 a.m.
Official souvenirs on sale. Balloons will fly into the complex from outlying areas and pilots will attempt to hit a specific target on the ground with baggies tossed from their balloons.
- Live broadcasts on FROGGY, WUZZ and MAJIC radio — 5 to 7 p.m.
- Sanctioned race No. 2 — 6:15 p.m.
Food and drinks are available on site. Official souvenirs on sale. Balloons will lift off from the complex.
- Night Glow — 9:30 p.m.
- Sanctioned race No. 1 — 7 a.m.
Balloons will fly into the complex from outlying areas and pilots will attempt to hit a specific target on the ground with baggies tossed from their balloons.
Note: All balloon launches are subject to weather conditions. Unsuitable weather can cause cancellation or delays. All times are approximate.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.