Words & Deeds

Boise Balloon Classic starts with kids’ joy (and shamed drone)

Sometimes bad weather is a good thing for hot-air balloons.

Without it, the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic wouldn’t get off to such a perfect start every year.

With dew on the grass, pilots gave tethered rides to children Wednesday to kick off the five-day festival in Ann Morrison Park. It’s a recent addition to the Balloon Classic, which has been happening for a quarter century.

“Kids’ Day was a happy accident,” Event Producer Scott Spencer explained. “Four years go, we didn’t have good enough weather to go fly balloons, so I kept them on the ground, and all of a sudden kids started lining up at each of the baskets, and we started giving rides.”

Ann Morrison Park sounded like a schoolyard. Children explored and played inside a partially inflated balloon lying on its side. Baskets packed with kids slowly ascended and descended. Judging from the lines when I finally left, a few tardy marks got doled out later at Boise public schools.

Kids’ Day was scheduled to begin at 7:15 a.m., but only after an unspeakably bad, cheese-stuffed “Pledge of Allegiance” song played over the public-address system. Seriously, I must mention this patriotic hilarity. I almost Kaepernicked it.

I wouldn’t have been the biggest jerk in the park. A drone further delayed the Kids’ Day proceedings. “You’re in violation of several federal regulations! There are fines!” Spencer shamed over the P.A. “But more importantly than any of those things, I have a field full of children that wanna go for a balloon ride! So please, land your drone!”

(Is there any segment of society becoming loathed more quickly than amateur drone pilots?)

A couple of minutes later, balloons were allowed to inflate. Excited little voices mixed with roaring burner blasts. Airborne babysitters took their passengers up and down, up and down.

It was hard not to wonder what kind of person becomes a balloonist. The travel. The expense. The time. The effort to drag out your equipment in the wee hours of the morning to NOT actually fly your balloon for Kids’ Day?

Most seemed happy just to get the opportunity to show off their unorthodox hobby. To anyone, really.

“You’ll notice most of the pilots are of my age — we’re grandparents,” Spencer said. “We like seeing the kids and ... sharing the dream of flight.”

Fifty balloons are in Boise to dot the sky the next four mornings. Thousands of people are expected to fill the park Friday night for the annual Nite Glow Spectacular. That’s when 25 grounded balloons will line up to illuminate the night with burner blasts.

Go do it. You’ll be glad you did. The Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic is just one of those things you need to experience up close to fully appreciate.

“It’s part of what life is in Boise,” Mayor Dave Bieter told the pilots, thanking them Wednesday morning.

Politician or not, that isn’t hot air.

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