What's on Tap

What's on Tap

Freedom Balloon Festival draws large crowds in Zebulon

Posted May 23, 2015
Updated March 31, 2016

— Only the quickest crews got to enjoy a lovely morning in the sky over eastern Wake County, but the Freedom Balloon Festival drew quite a crowd by Saturday evening.

A long line of people waited for the tethered balloon rides to begin at about 6:30 p.m.

The balloonists said they are loving the festival because they get to share their passion with an eager audience.

"People don't know about ballooning," said crew member, Bill Seeger. "They see it and they think we can just fly anytime. They have questions they want answered and no one can answer them. So I enjoy coming out to the festivals and answering the questions."

The night ended with the much anticipated, balloon glow. Crews fired up their burners like giant holiday ornaments and lit up the night sky.

"It is awesome I have not seen a hot air balloon in over 20 years," said Jeanne Waddell. "It just brings back so many childhood memories. I had to share it with my kids tonight."

Winds ground morning balloon races

Surface winds generated by a phenomenon known as a "noctural jet" forced organizers of the WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest to cancel planned competitive tasks, but several dozen balloons still took to the skies early Saturday.

"Winds are always the key with any hot air balloon activities," WRAL meteorologist Mike Moss said.

Among those to offer rides from Bennett Bunn Plantation, 1915 Old Bunn Road in Zebulon was the Flying Rainbow, a family-run balloon out of Greensboro.

Pilot Buddy Carter leads three generations of his family in an efficient unloading process that starts with the basket on its side. After the balloon is unfurled and attached, Carter fills it first with cool air from a generator-powered fan, then with the hot air created by the propane burner atop the basket.

The Flying Rainbow took off just after 7 a.m. with two passengers for a swift airborne tour of eastern Wake County. Winds at the surface were calm, and the visibility was about 10 miles under sunny skies.

Before 8, organizers backed off a plan for out-and-back races and a target-drop competition, but those that managed to take off enjoyed a sunny, calm morning.

Carter's son drives the tracking van, which reads a GPS beacon mounted in the balloon so that the full crew ends up at the same destination. Carter's grandkids help with the inflation and deflation of the balloon, with even the littlest performing a role.

Saturday morning's ride lasted for about 45 minutes and covered about 15 miles, Carter said.

The balloon reached speeds of about 23 mph. In the basket, the wind is not noticeable, and the heat of the propane burner, used to keep the balloon inflated and calibrate speed and altitude, warms the backs of riders' necks.

Parking for WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest

A greater-than-expected early turnout for the festival had people standing in line for more than an hour and walking alongside the highway in Zebulon Friday afternoon.

Organizers said they would add shuttle buses for the rest of the event to accommodate the crowds.

In addition to shuttle busses, organizers said they would also work closely with Zebulon Police on crowd and traffic control.

Bennett Bunn Plantation in Zebulon

Park at the home of the Mudcats, Five County Stadium, 1501 N.C. Highway 39. Parking is $10 and proceeds go to The Raleigh Jaycees. There will be a shuttle running to the Bennett Bunn Plantation, which is about two miles away. Note: Shuttles will start at 6 a.m. Saturday through Monday so people can watch the balloon races.

There is limited on-site Premium Parking for $30/car (cash only) with a portion of proceeds going to The Raleigh Jaycees.

Spring Forest Road Park in Raleigh

Enjoy free park-and-ride shuttle service courtesy of Triangle Town Center and GoRaleigh Transit. Simply park near the entrance of the mall closest to Men's Wearhouse at Triangle Town Center. There's a GoRaleigh Bus shelter nearby.

Handicapped Parking

All handicapped guests going to BBP should first go to Five County Stadium; if they have no ability to get on to a shuttle, they will be issued a $10 pass to park on-site at Bennett Bunn. Note: On-site parking is still not close to the activities. Attendees should plan accordingly to have assistance and take their time getting there.

If heading to Spring Forest Road Park, there is plenty of wheelchair accessible parking at Triangle Town Center for free. All Go Raleigh busses are wheelchair accessible. There is a paved surface surrounding the park.


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  • Aanritsen Deur May 25, 2015
    user avatar

    Lots of complaints over on Facebook because of the lack of organization causing long lines and long waits for shuttle transportation to this.
    I hope they do better next time, cause it's a heck of a sight to see.

  • Terry Watts May 24, 2015
    user avatar

    We went to the Spring Forest Park event, but had to leave before they could fire up the balloons... There were a ton of people there though! Pretty cool that we get these kinds of things to do in Wake County!

  • Aanritsen Deur May 23, 2015
    user avatar

    I bet all those balloons was quite a sight to see. Heck, seeing one is even a treat.