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Light rains can’t keep every balloon down

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat—Even the rain couldn’t keep some children from playing on  the levee where balloons briefly inflated for the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race annual balloon glow.  The balloons on the Vidalia Riverfront were some of the few balloons that inflated due to the weather.
Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Even the rain couldn’t keep some children from playing on the levee where balloons briefly inflated for the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race annual balloon glow. The balloons on the Vidalia Riverfront were some of the few balloons that inflated due to the weather.

Vidalia — For a few brief moments Friday evening, the Vidalia riverfront was bathed in an array of colors and the dragon-like whooshing sound of flames inflating hot air balloons.

The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race’s after-dark balloon glow — during which the flames used to make balloons fly illuminate the balloon envelopes from the inside out — was on the Vidalia Riverfront and along the Natchez bluff, but stiffer-than-desired winds forced pilots to deflate their already grounded aircraft.

The balloons only glowed on the Vidalia side, because light rain Friday muddied the Natchez Balloon Festival ground, forcing pilots to keep their balloons packed away.

“These things are like a seven-story tall sail, and it doesn’t take a lot for it to get out of hand,” pilot David Eastland of Franklin, Tenn., said.

During the time the balloons were inflated and upright, several pilots allowed onlookers to crawl into the baskets of their aircraft for a closer look.

Emily Elliott of Aimwell, La., was given a chance to board a balloon and pull the cord that ignited the burner and lit up the envelope.

“It was very cool,” she said. “The whole time I was in there I was nervous. I was scared the balloon was going to go up.”

Children weren’t the only ones impressed with their first encounter with a hot air balloon. Barb James of Laurel walked away from her moment in the basket with an itch to take to the air.

“The only thing is I thought the basket would be bigger,” she said.

For those who missed the short window in which they could have seen the glow, another opportunity for color in the sky followed shortly — fireworks.

Even though it was brief, the balloon glow was a visual symbol of regional cooperation and coordination. Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said the city invited several balloons to glow on the riverfront.

“All events need a partnership from the Miss-Lou in order to make them successful,” he said.

Copeland said he and officials with the City of Natchez worked together this year to avoid any conflicting events the weekend of the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

“We didn’t do anything that would create an issue for them in order to make sure they were successful with the balloon race,” Copeland said. “The event is an important part of the community, so we wanted to do anything we could to help out.”

In past years, the City of Vidalia has hosted its annual Vidalia Landing Flea Market the same weekend as the balloon race.

This year, the city decided to host the event the weekend before to avoid any scheduling conflicts.

“We’ve agreed to not have any events on the riverfront this year,” Copeland said. “We’ll handle it year by year and discuss it as we go.”

 

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