QUEENSBURY — After weather put a damper on a few of the launches at the Adirondack Balloon Festival, Sunday morning’s mass ascension in honor of the festival’s late founder saw at least 50 balloons float into the sky.
“This is in honor of Walter (Grishkot), which makes it really special,” said Mark Donahue, president of the festival’s board of directors. “That was one in 20, it was a magical flight.”
Grishkot died last year at 85, and now his wife, Joan, is helping to shepherd the festival forward.
“It’s a lot of hard work. There are people who say ‘I’m only one person, what can I do?’ But this was all my husband. Unfortunately he’s not with us today but he’s here in spirit,” Grishkot said Sunday morning, tears filling her eyes. “I don’t mean to wax philosophical, but that’s what 40 years means to me.”
Joan Grishkot fingered her necklace, a 14-carat-gold balloon with a ruby in it, which festival organizers gave her Friday for the festival’s 40th anniversary, as she reflected on the past 40 years of the festival and looked ahead to the future of the annual event.
“This is going to go on for the community,” she said. “Things will change — they’ll be added or subtracted, but hopefully it will still be the balloon festival. We need people with youth and energy that I no longer have.”
Around 6:15 a.m. Sunday in the darkness, pilots met inside a tent. By 7 a.m., there were around 50 balloons in the process of inflating, launching or already floating over the Warren County airport.
There were 103 balloons at the airport, but by about 7:30 a.m., the wind was beginning to pick up and most of the balloons that hadn’t yet launched inflated and stood up for the crowd, but weren’t able to leave the ground.
Grishkot told people who have never been up in a hot air balloon it’s “like a magic carpet ride. If you shut your eyes, you don’t even know when the ground left you.”
Religious services were held in one of the tents Sunday morning, and the pastors were often competing with the loud, frequently firing burner of a nearby special shape balloon.
Sunday morning’s attendance was down from what it’s been in past years, but Donahue guessed total attendance for the weekend was somewhere between 120,000 and 140,000 people.
“This morning’s attendance was down, probably because people went to bed and it
was pouring,” Donahue said Sunday. “The early crowd was thin but they were moving in. It’s not a record crowd for Sunday, but this year we probably had the biggest Thursday and Friday nights we’ve ever had.”
And despite bad weather Saturday, people kept streaming in, Donahue said.
The balloonists who didn’t need to leave earlier in the day Sunday to travel a long distance or return to work on Monday stayed for a planned smaller launch Sunday evening from Crandall Park in Glens Falls, which was ultimately called off because of weather.
About 20 balloons were in Crandall Park, and were put on hold because of wind and possible showers in the area. Balloon pilots and crew members told the crowds gathered around their baskets the wind would need to die down before they could launch, pointing at flags waving nearby as a sign they couldn’t take off.
One crew began inflating their balloon, and when the wind began whipping it toward the crowd, crews began packing up their balloons and people started leaving.
Despite a few of the launches being canceled because of weather, organizers were happy with the way this year’s festival turned out.
“We couldn’t be happier. We did a debriefing today and merchants in downtown Glens Falls are happy, the vendors at the airport are happy, it was a banner weekend for everyone,” Donahue said. “It was a great way to celebrate 40 years.”