Race begins today; glow set for tonight

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 17, 2008

NATCHEZ — Today kicks off the first day of the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

The media flight begins this morning and boasts the largest number of participating balloons ever with 34.

“We have an unprecedented number of balloons participating in the Friday morning flight,” organizer Sally Durkin said.

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Durkin said it’s going to be a sight to see with that many balloons in the air and is encouraging people to come out and watch.

The exact time of liftoff is unknown, she said.

She suggested that interested parties begin looking for balloons between 7 and 7:30 a.m. The Natchez Democrat will be sending text message alerts as soon as flight times and paths are confirmed. To sign up for the alerts visit www.natchezdemocrat.com.

This morning’s flight is also a biathalon — cyclists will ride in balloons with the pilots and a ground crews will carry the cyclist’s bike to wherever the balloon lands.

As soon as the balloon touches ground, the cyclist jumps on the bike and rides back to the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

The distance is un-calculated because balloon landings can be somewhat unpredictable.

“We’ve had a target on the north end of Lake Concordia that a balloonist had to let the cyclist out on the highway going to Lake St. John, and they had to ride a good 15 or 20 miles back to the visitor’s center,” Durkin said.

Fifteen cyclists are participating in today’s biathalon.

The morning excitement will be followed by evening awe during the balloon glow.

Balloons will light up, weather permitting, while tethered to the ground.

Durkin said a few balloons will be in Vidalia but most will be on the Natchez bluff, and she estimated that about half of the total 65 balloons will be lit.

“It’s just beautiful,” she said. “You get to really see the brilliant colors of the balloons against the dark sky.”

The gates for the glow open at 6 p.m. and will be followed by fireworks. The glow will begin at dark.

Vendors will be present at the festival site. Weekend passes can be purchased at the Historic Natchez Foundation on Commerce Street or the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau on Canal.