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Fourth annual Old West Balloon Fest launches Friday and Saturday

August 15, 2018 GMT

MITCHELL — The sky south of Mitchell will fill with hot air balloons Friday morning for the launch of this year’s Old West Balloon Fest. The Old West Balloon Fest will take place Friday, Aug. 17 and Saturday, Aug. 18.

“The morning launches will take place at the Mitchell Airfield,” OWBF director Colleen Johnson said. “Gates will open at 5:30 a.m. (both days). There will be food and merchandise vendors for the morning launches.”

Balloons will begin launching at around 6:15 a.m.

“We have 30 balloons registered this year,” Johnson said. “They are coming from as far away as California, Texas, Kentucky, Montana, New Mexico and Iowa.”

Changes with Parking

This year there will be a charge of $10 per vehicle for a parking pass at all the events. People are encouraged to purchase parking passes before the event at Pinnacle Bank (Mitchell and Torrington locations), Platte Valley Bank (all locations), the Gering Civic Center and other business locations listed at theoldwestballoonfest.com. Passes will be available at the gate for the launches or the night glows.

“It does cost quite a bit to put on this festival,” Johnson said. “We felt that a $10 parking pass was fair and would encourage people to car pool to the events.”

Date Change

The date was also changed to coincide with nationals, which will come to western Nebraska next year, Johnson said.

“The Balloon Federation of America is the organization that helps put on the championship,” Johnson said. “They have a full-time weather person who researched when the best weather would be in July/August time frame to hold the championships. They came up with the first two weeks in August as the best weather for ballooning.”

New Additions

This year’s launches from the Mitchell Airfield will include two new added competitions for the balloon pilots.

Hare and Hound

On Friday, a Hare and Hound or Watership Down competition will be held. The hare balloon will take off from the airfield at around 6:15 a.m. The hare will fly for 15 minutes, land and put out an X for the hound balloons to compete. The hound balloons will launch 15 minutes later and chase down the hare. They will navigate to the X and throw a baggie on it. The hare balloon might land a second time and put out another X.

Watership Down

For the Watership Down competition the hare balloon will take off from a secret location. The hound balloons will take off from the airfield and try to find where the hare balloon launched from (the hare will mark the spot with an X). Once found, the hound will drop a baggie on the X.

On Saturday, the balloons will launch from the Mitchell Airfield then try to score points immediately on a target placed somewhere close. The target will be on the airfield so spectators will be able to watch the balloon pilots score points.

“It is really something to watch multiple balloons drop out of the sky to score on a target,” Johnson said.

Many of the pilots who will be coming to the area for the national competition next year will be flying in this year’s OWBF. There will be 50-60 balloons in the area for nationals taking place Aug. 13-19, 2019.

Night Glow

The night glow will take place both nights at Five Rocks Amphitheater in Gering. Gates will open at 3 p.m. There will be a kids’ zone, food, music, merchandise vendors, a beer garden and the balloons glowing at sunset. Country Road 20 and Peter Brening and the Perfect Blend will perform at the night glows.

For many of this year’s pilots, OWBF will be a test run. For spectators, it will be two days with balloons filling the western sky and nights with balloons glowing as the sun goes down.

For more, see the OWBF insert in Wednesday’s Star-Herald.