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Launch site announced for Balloon Fest
April 02, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis

Courtesy photo - Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau director Brenda Leisy (in front), is joined by (from left) launch director John Grier, balloon meister Colleen Johnson from Colorado, and event co-chair Becky Horne.

The scenic Mitchell Valley has been chosen as the launch site for this year’s returning Old West Balloon Fest … Re-Inflated.
After an absence of almost 30 years, the colorful sight of hot air balloons will be returning to the area on Labor Day weekend, Sept. 5-7. The location for the event is the old airport, about 1.5 miles south of Mitchell. A balloon glow is scheduled for the evening of Sept. 5

The location is also close to the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds where the rest of the weekend’s activities will take place. Some of the events will include food and vendors, a kids’ zone, a music festival and a beer garden.

John Grier of Scottsbluff will serve as launch director for the event. He said the idea of re-launching the balloon festival has been in the works for almost two years. One of the early selections for a launch site was the Mitchell fairgrounds, but the number of electrical power lines made it problematic.

“We tried to find a place in Scottsbluff, but the original site has been developed,” Grier said. “We decided to look south and west of Scottsbluff for a potential site.”

He said the old Mitchell airport has enough space for pilots to lay out their balloons in preparation for inflation. There is also enough space to park chase vehicles and balloon trailers.

“The spot is perfect for that,” Grier said. “We’re expecting to have from 15 to 20 balloons attending. If we get more, that’s great.”
Colleen Johnson from Kiowa, Colo., a balloon pilot, is balloon meister for the event. She was in the area last week to inspect potential sites before determining the old Mitchell airport was a good site.

Little room is needed to land a balloon. Pilots will seek out perfect spots like driveways and dirt roads. Still, landowner relations are important. Pilots need to stay clear of crops and livestock, as well as fences and gates.

“Colleen loved the area for balloons,” said Brenda Leisy, director of the Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau. “She said it was the perfect spot with plenty of room for parking and for staging the balloons.”
Leisy added that Johnson was very impressed with the community as a beautiful area for and event like a balloon festival.

The Nebraska Travel Commission also awarded the Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau $16,365 to promote Old West Balloon Fest…Re-Inflated, re-inventing a beloved regional event and drawing exposure for Scotts Bluff National Monument and Western Nebraska.

“I’ve never been so excited about a grant like this,” Leisy said. “You apply for them with the hopes something good is going to happen. But we can barely compete in that market, where cities like Omaha can come up with matching funds for a big event. It’s tougher for us.”
She said all the grant funds will be used for marketing the event.

Several events will also be scheduled for the balloon pilots, including a meet-and-greet, a champagne brunch, free rooms, giveaways and generally rolling out the red carpet for them.

“Balloon pilots aren’t in it for the money,” Leisy said. “They do it because they love to fly. And we want to show them our wonderful western Nebraska hospitality.”

For more information on the balloon festival, sponsorship opportunities and more, contact bleisy@scottsbluffcounty.org or call (308) 633-1808.
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