5 things to enjoy at the Ohio Challenge balloon festival that returns this week in Middletown

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Timelapse from Ohio Challenge in Middletown Saturday morning.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Event returns in a big way after last year’s cancellation.

Thousands of spectators will return to Middletown for The Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival at Smith Park/Middletown Regional Airport this weekend. Festival hours Friday and Saturday are 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. There will be no festival activities on Sunday.

“I’m looking forward to seeing people out, having fun. People can get outside, enjoy the weather, and the balloons,” said Kathy Stites, event manager, The Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Balloon enthusiasts will enjoy evening balloon glows, fireworks, skydiving demonstrations, and a car show Saturday. Spectators can visit 30-40 food and craft vendors. There will also be rides for kids.

This is the 18th year for the annual festival, which has grown into one of the area’s largest, signature summer events. More than 300 volunteers come together to support the festivities. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact The Ohio Challenge via the festival website at www.ohiochallenge.com or email contact@ohiochallenge.com. In the past, the event has drawn 40,000 to 50,000 spectators from Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and beyond. Last year, the event was canceled due to COVID-19.

Here are five things you won’t want to miss at The Ohio Challenge:

· Night balloon glows – Balloon glows are spectacular at night. This year, there will be 15-20 balloons on display. Balloon glows will take place at dusk both nights. This year’s featured special shaped balloon will be Claw’D – the Crazy Crab. (There may a balloon launch Saturday morning, weather permitting.)

· Skydiving – This is a highly-anticipated event each year. Skydivers from Team Fastrax will do several jumps each night. They will return both nights between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m. for a Team Fastrax Pyrotechnic Skydiving Display. (The skydivers will jump several times each night and return right before the fireworks.) Scan the QR Code on Facebook and The Ohio Challenge website for more details and a complete event schedule.

· Fireworks – On both Friday and Saturday nights, there will be fireworks beginning around 9:45 p.m. Saturday’s extravaganza is expected to have even more fireworks on display.

· Festival fun – The Fluff & Puff balloon walk-through is always popular with kids. Beyond the balloons, there is plenty of family fun, including rides from Murray Brothers Inc. About 30-40 vendors will participate with a variety of food booth offerings as well as arts and crafts vendors.

· Car show – A car show will be held Saturday from 4- 8 p.m. See old and new generation cars. Cost to register a car is $15. Awards will be presented.

How to go

What: The Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival

When: Friday, July 16 and Saturday, July 17. Hours are 5-10:30 p.m. Gates open at 4:30.

Where: Smith Park/Middletown Regional Airport

Admission: Walk-in admission is $5 for ages 13 and up (12 and under are free). Parking is $15 per vehicle, which includes festival admission and a free shuttle service (good for everyone in the car). No overnight RV parking. Handicap parking is available with a valid permit. Vehicles should enter via Middletown Regional Airport entrance.

More info.: www.ohiochallenge.com. There will be no balloon rides or tethered balloon rides offered from inside Smith Park during the event.