GLENS FALLS — Wind conditions made the first launch of the 40th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival smaller than planned, but organizers were happy with how the event got off the ground Thursday.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better night, but we wish the winds were less than they were,” said Mark Donahue, president of the festival’s board of directors.
As Donahue and Queensbury Supervisor Dan Stec gave remarks around 5 p.m., shortly before the balloons were scheduled to launch, the pilots were in a briefing and getting more information about the weather.
A launch of about 20 balloons was planned for the festival’s opening ceremony Thursday night, but because the winds were blowing directly north and would have taken the balloons straight from Glens Falls towards Lake George, only about seven or eight actually launched. The conditions would have forced pilots to land in tighter spots, Donahue said.
“It’s far from an ideal landing spot — there are no farm fields,” Donahue said.
The balloons that did launch left the ground close to 6 p.m. or later, while other balloons were inflated at the park but stayed tethered to the ground.
At the opening ceremonies, there was a brief acknowledgement of the event’s 40th anniversary, and a birthday cake balloon with candles on top was inflated for the event. That balloon’s pilot, Keith Sproul, of New Jersey, takes the balloon all over to different festivals to commemorate various anniversaries. The crew went to New Zealand with the birthday cake balloon in the past.
Sproul has had the balloon since 2005. It was originally made for the 20th anniversary of the TBS Superstation, he said.
His crew, clad in purple T-shirts that read “Happy Birthday” and matched the balloon’s color scheme, unfurled the material before a gathering crowd.
Sproul has three special shape balloons at this year’s festival — his other two are a pig and a rabbit, he said.
“I love the special shapes,” he said. “This will take the same amount of people as a normal balloon, but I like a crew of 12. It has a cart, because with its size and shape, the crew can’t just grab it by the straps and haul it into a vehicle.”
One of the features of this year’s festival that organizers have highlighted is the increase in special shape balloons — 13 are slated to attend, which is more than double the number of special shapes normally launched at the festival. And, because those balloons are heavier and more difficult to inflate than conventional balloons, organizers have asked for 30 to 50 people to assist with launches during the festival.
About 20 people showed up for an informational session last weekend for those interested in volunteering at the festival. If other people who weren’t at Saturday’s session want to volunteer, they still can be assigned to help with launches by attending the briefings before the launches, Donahue said.
Thursday evening’s launch marked the first of six scheduled for this year’s festival.
The launches range in size — Thursday’s launch was small compared to the launches planned for Friday night, Saturday morning and night and Sunday morning, when 80 to 100 balloons will be launched around the same time.
On Friday, it’s a busy day behind the scenes for the balloonists. Pilots will be going through a registration process, and all must meet with the Federal Aviation Administration before launching. The Warren County airport closes at noon, and by 3 p.m., it will “become a balloon port,” Donahue said.
Friday will be the first time some of the special shape balloons are inflated at this festival.
After the opening ceremonies and launch Thursday, the streets of Glens Falls opened for a block party with balloon displays, live music and activities for kids.
The majority of the events for the rest of the weekend will be held at Warren County airport in Queensbury, but will wrap up Sunday evening back in Crandall Park.
There will also be a Moonglow event Friday evening at Battlefield Park in the village of Lake George.
According to the National Weather Service website, the forecast as of Thursday indicated Friday’s conditions would be good for launches, but the chances for rain increase through the weekend. There’s a 40 percent chance of showers Saturday, and a 60 percent chance of showers Sunday.
Donahue refuses to look at the weather forecast for the weekend, he said.
“If we get lemons, we’ll make lemonade,” he said. “We’re moving forward.”