What do Ebola, balloons have in common?

Published 12:05 am Sunday, October 19, 2014

By mid-morning Saturday all was right with the world, my wife Julie announced from the passenger seat.

After days of Ebola fears blanketing the news, Julie said assuredly, “The first headline on CNN is about Ebola, but the second one is, ‘How Jimi Hendrix stopped being black.’

“I think we’re going to be OK.”

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She was partially joking, but one has to appreciate how quickly the national media can lock onto a story one minute, then drop it the next.

Ebola was far from the minds of most in Natchez Saturday morning. For many, all eyes were skyward in the morning and afternoon and looking on stage other times.

The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race kicked off Friday and was in full swing Saturday morning, blessed by beautiful weather.

Saturday came quickly for our family as we awoke early to see if the hot-air balloons would take to the skies for the Saturday morning balloon race.

The weather cooperated and the balloon race did not disappoint. Dozens of balloons flew Saturday morning to the delight of what must have been hundreds of spectators — mostly at the Natchez Mall.

The balloon race has suggested if this year’s race has poor weather or a poor gate total, the race’s future may be in jeopardy.

I hope this year’s good weather allows the race to become financially stable for many years to come.

One of the challenges the race faces is that it’s effectively half music festival and half balloon race, and not all fans of one are fans of the other.

The folks who want to see the music festival portion are highly dependent on the weather being good — dry, not too hot and not too cold — and the festival’s ability to draw popular acts.

Get everything correct and the music aficionados will whip out their wallets.

Among the best draws the balloon festival has is the amazing sight of seeing dozens of balloons floating through the skies.

It’s even better if the weather allows the balloonists to soar across the majestic Mississippi River.

For the past few years, however, the festival has opted to not have the barge drop — a competition in which a barge is held stationary along the edge of the Mississippi River and balloonists attempt to navigate close to the barge and throw a beanbag onto a target on the barge’s deck.

The feat was challenging even for the best balloon pilots, but it was an amazing spectator event since it combined beautiful, unique balloons with a beautiful, unique and panoramic vista.

Another downside of the barge drop was that it could be seen from either side of the Mississippi River, from areas wide open to the public.

All the focus on stopping the Ebola outbreak had me thinking about the tactics used for stopping the deadly virus, and I couldn’t help but see some connections between its likely end and a possible savior for the balloon race — containment measures.

Perhaps the balloon race can convince the City of Natchez — or vice versa — to simply enclose the entirety of the Natchez bluff as part of the festival grounds, thus isolating the beauty of the race for just a bit.

Doing so would allow the festival to charge a small fee for those people who simply want to watch the balloons, but otherwise will never step foot inside the festival grounds or pay a penny to those who create the festival.

It doesn’t seem like an insurmountable task, and the cost for access wouldn’t have to be enormous to make a huge difference.

Perhaps charging as little as $1 or $2 per adult may suffice, especially for starters.

Ditto for the Natchez Mall. What I’d guess to be several hundred people camped out all over the mall’s parking lot as balloonists took aim on the target set in the field behind the mall.

We’d have certainly paid $1 or $2 to get an up close and personal view of the balloons. On particularly cold or hot mornings, those spectators may have paid for a little breakfast or for something to drink, too.

But then again, perhaps I’m full of as much hot air as the balloons.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.