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Four Rivers Balloon Festival is this weekend in Jonesville

JONESVILLE — The bright and colorful glow of hot air balloons could be seen reflected on the surface of the water where four rivers meet in Jonesville this weekend as money is raised for charitable causes.

The Four Rivers Balloon Festival was founded four years ago for two main reasons, said festival organizer Debbie Willson.

“One was to give back to my sport of ballooning,” she said. “That was something that Bill Bussey, my pilot, told me when I first started flying, that it’s really important to give back to your sport. I never forgot that. I also wanted to give back to my community and raise money for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.”

The gates to the festival grounds open at 4 p.m. Friday at Magnolia Hill Park on Front Street and again at 9 a.m. Saturday with ballooning events and a balloon glow at dusk on both days as weather permits, Willson said.

Tickets to the festival are $5 for Friday, $8 Saturday and free for children 7 years old and younger and can be purchased at the gate, Willson said. Balloon tether rides are $20 for adults and $10 for children, weather permitting.

The Four Rivers festival is a Balloon Federation of America sanctioned event, Willson said, meaning each of approximately 20 participating pilots earns points for competitive flying on a national scale.

Willson said she has been flying balloons for more than 20 years and served on the committee for the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race in Natchez prior to moving to Louisiana.

Four years ago, she had the idea to found a festival in Jonesville to support causes very close to her, she said, including financial support for victims of domestic violence, youth sports and the Spirit Reins Equine Center, a ranch for children with disabilities.

“Once I got this idea in my head, I went to Mary Edwards, owner of Edwards Motel in Jonesville,” Willson said. “She said, ‘I don’t know anything about a balloon race, but if you tell us what to do we will do it.’ I had the experience and she had the muscle and that is how it all got started.”

Since then, the festival had been welcomed with tremendous support from pilots and community members, Willson said, with live music and performances from local artists, a variety of craft and food vendors and activities for children.

Today at dusk, some pilots would have a traditional balloon glow outside The Columns Community Care Center nursing home on 4th Street, Willson said.

“Pilots passing through from Alexandria and Pineville stop there and glow without anyone asking them to do that, so it has become a tradition for our race,” she said.

Those seeking more information and a schedule of events can visit the Four Rivers Balloon Race Facebook page, Willson said.