What's on Tap

What's on Tap

Lessons learned: Balloon Fest organizer to make changes next year

Posted May 25, 2015

— Organizers said the inaugural WRAL Freedom Balloon Festival was a success beyond their expectations.

“We exceeded the bottom end of our projected attendance on the first night,” lead organizer Brian Hoyle said Monday.

That big success didn't come without its share of problems. Hoyle said the attendance overwhelmed the plan.

“We just didn't know because it's the first time we've had an event of this size, scale and scope in over 25 years,” he said.

Traffic ground to a halt Friday night on the congested country roads around the Bennett Bunn Plantation in Zebulon, one of two sites for the festival.

Hoyle's team tripled the number of buses by Saturday for a smoother flow.

At Spring Forest Park in Raleigh, the second venue, thousands of people waited in huge lines for tethered balloon rides.

Hoyle also said many people expressed disappointment about arriving after most of the activity had taken place. He says the times on the schedule were windows of opportunity for the balloon pilots - and attendees need to keep that in mind for the next time.

Organizers are taking a look at all aspects of the next festival -- including bigger venues.

“The crowd (at Spring Forest Park) was very patient with us and demand was large enough, maybe we'll look at different space for that as well,” Hoyle said.

He wants disappointed attendees to give the festival another chance.

“We hope you'll give us a little flexibility, and we invite you to come back next year,” Hoyle said.

14 Comments

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  • Doug Hanthorn May 26, 2015
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    That was just the one bit where they did the tethered rides. There were other events where the balloons flew away. I agree, tethering at the Fairgrounds might be a good choice.

  • Sarcoi Dosis May 26, 2015
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    All going points, but from what I saw, no one flew in or out at the Raleigh Location. The Balloons all remained tethered to the ground. Some offered spectators a ride up of about 30 to 40 feet, but they remained tethered.
    Assuming that they plan to do the same thing next year. The NC Fairgrounds may not be so bad a location. My experience at past balloon rodeos was that the balloons actually flew off, but that was not the case with this one. Nothing went up higher than 40 feet..

  • Doug Hanthorn May 26, 2015
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    The most important factor in choosing a location for the event where the balloons fly away from the event location is what does it look like around the location as far as availability of landing areas. The fairgrounds would be a HORRIBLE choice. 1) First and foremost, you have about a 1400 foot ceiling flying over Raleigh because you are inside the RDU control area above that. This also assumes the city of Raleigh would grant all the pilots a permit to fly below the 1000 foot level, and permits allowing the pilots to land within the city limits if they need to. 2) If the winds are blowing to the west, in general, you have very few options for landing. If the winds are blowing to RDU, you have no options for landing without every pilot having a transponder and aircraft radio on board.

    No, the Fairgrounds are the last place I'd ever want to fly out of. I did it once and it was a miracle I found a place to land.

  • Sarcoi Dosis May 26, 2015
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    I'd highly recommend to the organizers that they hold future events at the NC State Fairgrounds. Charge a nominal admission fee to cover your costs. The Fairgrounds have Plenty of parking for all and space to set up Hot Balloons. Plus you would have better controls over the crowds, and attract more food vendors. We asked someone near the front of the food lines how long they had been waiting in line.. 2 Hours standing in line for a Hotdog and drink? Yikes..

    It was actually quicker for us to walk to the mall.. Eat Lunch and walk back... I realize that this was a brand new event, and a learning experience. I'm not judging, just suggesting that you may have better results holding it at the NC State Fairgrounds rather than stagger it over 3 days at 2 locations.

  • Sarcoi Dosis May 26, 2015
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    I was simply shocked to see the number of children in plain view of their parents abusing the balloons.
    I would have been very angry to see parents permitting their children to abuse my Balloon.
    Would you permit you children to climb on the Hood of someone's New Porsche or Custom Motorcycle while it's on display?? I suspect not, so why would you let them use an expensive Hot Air Balloon as a punching and kicking bag?

  • Doug Hanthorn May 26, 2015
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    Wow. I'd have withdrawn from the event if I found this happening. You are absolutely correct. A) The parents should have a clue and B) the organizers should have prevented spectators from getting that close. Inflating and launching a balloon has its risks and I wouldn't want to be responsible for injuring a child.

  • Doug Hanthorn May 26, 2015
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    Balloons seldom tether in the middle of the day. They need calm conditions to tether.

  • Sarcoi Dosis May 26, 2015
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    Having attended Balloon Rodeos in various parts of the country, I think that allowing spectators to crowd around the Balloons while being set up was a bit Irresponsible. Spectators should have been moved back while the balloons were being raised. I observed parents allowing toddlers to play immediately under the balloons as they were inflated. A gentle gust of wind could easily roll a Balloon on top of and trapping a small child...
    Parents should also be ashamed for allowing their kids ATTACK the balloons. These things cost Tens of Thousands of Dollars. Yet children were permitted to use them like Punching, and Kicking bags. Some kids were diving onto the balloons like they were ball pits. I took a good bit of video showing children abusing the Balloons while still on the ground. Shame on you Parents for not teaching your children respect the Property of Others!

  • Sue Mangus May 25, 2015
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    Since it was a 3 day weekend, it would make more sense to have the mass launch on Saturday. That way people wouldn't have to take take time off work and fight the holiday weekend exodus thru Raleigh. Also, we noticed that the schedule was being changed in the days leading up to the event. An explanation of the events and how they could be affected by different weather conditions would also have been helpful.

  • Aanritsen Deur May 25, 2015
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    -

    The ads on tv repeatedly said no pets.

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