Balloon race begins with morning flight, glow today

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 14, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; The road to 20 had a considerable speed bump plopped smack dab in the way.

But hot-air balloons aren’t easy to deflate, and the Natchez race is no different.

Three weeks ago every Natchez hotel room was booked and more than three area shelters were housing hundreds of hurricane evacuees.

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There was simply no room, and no emotional energy, for the hot-air balloon pilots who have been coming to Natchez since 1986.

But a committee with too much history under their belts to give up called on its community, and together they made it happen.

&8221;It would’ve been real easy to cancel it,&8220; committee member Cappy Stahlman said. &8221;I can’t praise them enough for saying, hey we are going to do it.&8220;

Stahlman, one of the original brains behind the first race 20 years ago, said this was an important bump to go over.

&8221;If you slip up and don’t do it one year people might do something else the next year,&8220; he said.

And this race, at this point and time, is just what the community needs race Executive Director Laura Godfrey said.

&8221;Disasters are so devastating to the community,&8220; she said. &8221;I think this will be a really, really neat thing for everyone to come together and enjoy. We’ll be able to get in there and say we are enjoying life.&8220;

From two balloons in the first race held behind Natchez Mall to 59 this year on the bluff, enjoyment is what organizers say it’s really all about.

&8221;It thrills me to no end that this event is so beloved by this community,&8220; committee member Sally Durkin said. &8221;All the work is so well rewarded by the looks on the kids faces. The bigger the balloon gets, the bigger their eyes get.&8220;

The first balloons inflated early this morning &045; wind allowing &045; for the media flight. The event will officially kick-off for the public at tonight’s balloon glow at 6 p.m. at Rosalie. Entertainment will begin Friday at 8 p.m. and last until 10 p.m.

Two flights are scheduled Saturday, about 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Saturday entertainment starts at noon.

An early morning flight is planned for Sunday, followed by entertainment starting at 1 p.m. Some pilots will also fly that afternoon, weather permitting.

Tickets are available at the gates for $5 Friday, $15 Saturday, $10 Sunday or $25 for the weekend.

Children under 6 enter free. Children ages 7 to 12 can get tickets for $1, $3 and $3 respectively or $5 for the weekend.

The festival will include rides for children and vendors.