QUEENSBURY ♦ In 40 years, the size and reach of the Adirondack Balloon Festival has grown tremendously, but the balloon technology remains much the same.
And that simplicity is part of the appeal to balloonists, said Mark Donahue, president of the festival’s board of directors.
“(It changes) in baby increments, nothing drastic,” Donahue said of the hot air balloon technology. “The burner technology evolves, and you don’t get radical change with the fabric.”
The 40th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival kicks off Thursday and runs through Sunday. At the event’s opening ceremonies at 5 p.m. Thursday in Crandall Park, the 40th anniversary will be celebrated with the launch of a special shape birthday cake balloon.
There are 104 balloons coming to this year’s festival, including 13 special shape balloons. That’s the largest number of special shape balloons that have ever been involved in the festival, Donahue said.
There will also be two “Moonglow” events, one on Friday in Battlefield Park in Lake George and one Saturday at Warren County airport in Queensbury.
A handful of the participating pilots have been involved in the festival for 30 to 35 years, and one balloonist who was involved in the first festival 40 years ago will be returning this year, Donahue said.
During Donahue’s involvement in the festival, he’s seen the Federal Aviation Administration become more involved in ballooning, he’s seen organizers trying to keep the most recent special shape balloons involved in the festival and he’s seen changes in how money is raised for the event, he said.
The festival lost the financial support of many smaller local businesses when they fell on hard times during the recession, but has seen an increase in corporate sponsorship from Price Chopper, Cabot Cheese and Glens Falls National Bank, which has basically kept it going, Donahue said.
If there are four days of good weather for the festival, Donahue said he could see festival attendance surpassing 150,000 people.
“I won’t look at the weekend. I can’t control it. It is what it is,” Donahue said. “You’ve got to go full force like it’s going to be a perfect weekend and hope for the best.”
According to the National Weather Service website on Tuesday, the forecast for Thursday and Friday is mostly sunny. There is a 30 percent change of rain on Saturday, and a 40 percent chance of rain on Sunday.
Festival organizers and balloon pilots have been taking balloons to different nursing homes and Community, Work & Independence Inc. locations around the region over the past week, bringing the festival to elderly and disabled people who may not be able to attend the event.
In driving rain on Tuesday morning, Donahue took a balloon to the Queensbury CWI location. The event didn’t go off as planned because of the weather conditions, but the balloon was laid under a roofed pavilion behind the building. When a fan was placed near the opening of the balloon, blowing it back, there were squeals of delight among the people who were there to see it and step into the balloon.
“This brings a little excitement to them,” balloon pilot Joe Schwerman said. “They appreciate it more than anyone else.”
Schwerman, who is a recreational airplane pilot and has been a balloon pilot for four years, enjoys the challenge and teamwork aspect of piloting a balloon, he said.
“The thrill of the flight and the excitement of being able to fly the balloon precisely — it’s a challenge,” Schwerman said. “Flying an airplane is an individual event. With this, you’re relying on your crew for so much. There’s this camaraderie, and at the event there’s even more camaraderie with 100 pilots and an enormous number of people focused on the same thing.”