The Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival turns 20: Activities added to schedule

Skydiving events by Start Skydiving will be livestreamed on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The Ohio Challenge will celebrate its 20th anniversary with colorful hot air balloons, laser light shows, balloon glows, skydiving, tethered balloon rides, a car show, a Kid’s Zone and more.

“This is the 20th year for The Ohio Challenge, so this is a huge year for us. Every year, it’s grown by five or 10 percent, having more people come in. Last year, for the two-day event, we had 17,000 to 18,000 people in attendance,” said Kathy Stites, event manager, The Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Sponsored by and, The Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival at Smith Park/Middletown Regional Airport will be 5-10:30 p.m. July 21-22..

Stites said organizers are hoping to have flights go up on Saturday and Sunday mornings, between 6-7 a.m., if the weather permits. There is no charge to enter Smith Park gate to see the flights.

“Everybody loves the balloons, and they’re so fascinating to see. Whether they go up, or when they glow, it’s just something special,” Stites said.

She said while the balloons are glowing, community members will have the opportunity to walk among the balloons.

“People can walk up to the balloons, so it’s pretty cool,” Stites said.

Another thing that’s new, she said, is each balloon pilot is going to have a card, similar to a trading card or a baseball card that they can give to guests. The cards will include a pilot bio, and more information about their balloon.

“Attendees will be able to walk up to a pilot, and they will be handed a card,” she said.

There have been other enhancements and improvements made, which will add to the experience.

“This year, we have a new sound system. So, the sound system is going to be great. You are going to be able to hear people better, and you’ll hear about everything that is going on. We will stream music, and you’ll be able to hear that better as well as the announcements and different things,” said Stites.

The skydiving events by Start Skydiving will be livestreamed on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In the past, skydivers have typically done three drops. Stites said, this year, the skydivers will be doing more jumps.

“The Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center will host a new Kid’s Zone.

“There has not been a Kid’s Area in a couple of years. With help from a local Girl Scout Troup, the Kid’s Zone will feature face painting and other fun activities,” Stites said.

Tethered balloon rides will be available again this year for $20 per person.

“This year, we will be offering two tethered balloon rides. Last year, the line was so long. It was after 11 p.m. on Saturday night before everyone was finished with their rides. So, this year, there will be two tethered balloon rides,” Stites said.

Other popular features of the festival include fireworks on both nights, laser light and pyrotechnics shows, and balloon glows, which will occur throughout the festival. There will also be food, craft and other vendors.

“A lot of the same stuff we had last year, we are back to doing, but there will be more of it,” Stites said. “We’re trying to have some of the balloons fly out of Smith Park, and if they fly out of Smith Park, they won’t glow. So, half of the pilots will fly out and not glow, and the other half will glow. We are working to try to make sure we get some flights both nights.”

Cronin Ford, one of the festival’s sponsors, will be doing a key drop for the balloon pilots both days. A key will be placed on a 30-ft. pole and the balloon operators try to obtain the key while they are up in the air. Each night, one balloonist will have the opportunity to win $1,000 if they retrieve the key.

How to go

What: The Ohio Challenge

When: 5-10:30 p.m. July 21-22 Gates will open at 4 p.m.

Where: Smith Park/Middletown Regional Airport, 2301 Wedekind Drive, Middletown.

Cost: Walk-in admission is $5 per adult, ages 13 and up (children ages 12 and younger are free). $15 per vehicle, which includes parking, festival admission and a free shuttle service (good for everyone in the car). Vehicles should enter via Middletown Regional Airport entrance.