Thousands of spectators will invade Middletown as the Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival returns to Smith Park/Middletown Regional Airport on today and Saturday.
Balloon enthusiasts will enjoy evening balloon glows, fireworks, skydiving demonstrations, tethered balloon rides and a car show on Saturday. There also will be carnival rides and an Indian Village for children to enjoy, as well as expanded food booth offerings, and arts and crafts vendors.
“I’m excited to see how guests will like the up-close-and-personal part of the event, and everybody always loves seeing the special-shaped balloons,” said Kathy Stites, event manager for The Ohio Challenge.
READ MORE: Middletown’s iconic hot air balloon festival overcomes rocky year to return this week
As far as changes this year, there won’t be an official competition (race), but spectators will have more opportunities to see the balloons up close. Also, a fun race is expected to take place Saturday morning. There will be no balloon rides sold out of the park this year. There won’t be any live bands, but there will be music streaming both days and Classic Country 105.9 WNKN will be at the festival tonight.
“Everybody has stepped up, including the City of Middletown. We’re always looking for new sponsors that want to be a part of the event, and we’re always looking for new event ideas and things to make it grow,” Stites said.
This is the 17th 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 to help with the special-shaped balloons can contact The Ohio Challenge at www.ohiochallenge.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are six things you won’t want to miss:
• Up-close hot air balloon experiences and rides: Guests will experience close to 25 colorful balloons of all shapes and sizes, including three special-shaped balloons — Bila the Polar Bear, Neptuno the Seahorse and Owlbert Einstein. There will be a mass balloon launch on Friday from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tethered balloon rides will be available on Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ($20 per adult and $15 per child.) For kids, the Fluff & Puff Balloon Walk-Through will be available on Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m. on 9 p.m. On Saturday, there will be a special launch at 6:30 a.m. All balloon activity is wind and weather dependent.
• Night balloon glows: Balloons can look even more spectacular at night. This year, guests can walk around the balloons while they are glowing. This year's balloon glows will take place from 9:15 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
• Skydiving: Skydivers from Team Fastrax will jump on Friday and Saturday evenings from 8 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. They will also return both nights at 10 p.m. for a Team Fastrax pyrotechnic skydiving display.
• Fireworks: On both Friday and Saturday, there will be fireworks beginning at 10:15 p.m. Saturday's extravaganza is expected to have even more fireworks on display.
• Festival Fun: Beyond the balloons, there is plenty of family fun to enjoy. The festival's opening remarks and a Native American Indian Ceremony will kick off on Friday at 6 p.m. There will also be festival rides and an Indian Village for children to enjoy. About 40 to 45 vendors will participate with expanded food booth offerings, as well arts and crafts vendors. Glow-in-the-dark items, like glow sticks and swords, will be available for purchase. For those feeling more adventurous, helicopter and biplane rides will be available throughout the event. Tickets for those rides will be sold near the shuttle bus entrance.
• Car show: A car show with more than 100 cars will be held on Saturday. Registration for the car show will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., with the show running from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Cost to register a car is $15. Awards will be presented.
HOW TO GO
What: The Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival
When: 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday, July 19, and Saturday, July 20. There will be no festival activities on Sunday.
Where: Smith Park/Middletown Regional Airport
Cost: During regular hours, walk-in admission is $5 per person ages 13 and up. Children 12 and under are free.
Parking: $15 per vehicle, which includes parking, festival admission and free shuttle service (good for everyone in the car.). Special rates are available for buses; contact the festival via the website for the rate and more information. 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