Blue skies and balloons: Balloon Festival draws big crowds to Norton Park

Spectators crowd into the field at Norton Park on Saturday, Aug. 24 to get a close-up view of a hot air balloon takeoff. The annual Hot Air Balloon Festival went off without a hitch last weekend under blue skies as crowds packed the local festival. The 35th annual event was sponsored by the Plainville Fire Department. (Photo by Lisa Sanchez Gonzalez)

By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

From Friday, Aug. 23 through Sunday, Aug. 25, the 35th annual Plainville Fire Company Hot Air Balloon Festival drew crowds from all across the region to Norton Park for a weekend of hot air balloons.

Jim Lenois, festival chairman and member of the fire company, said between 35,000 and 40,000 people would attend the festival by the end of the weekend—which even Lenois thought was amazing.

Up, up, and away. The Zito-Diaz family hitches a ride on one of the balloons during Plainville’s hot air balloon festival. (Photo by Lisa Sanchez Gonzalez)

In his opinion, there are several reasons why so many people would attend the festival, and why so many attendees have been coming for several years in a row. One of the biggest draws? That the event is free to attend. And most importantly, the hot air balloons themselves.

“We’re known for our Balloon Festival, so I think that people support that,” said Lenois. “We see that even in donations for the fireworks. It’s incredible the donations we get just in response to the fireworks, so I think it’s a town thing. And I think other people are fascinated with what we do.”

In order to accommodate so many people, the fire company must assemble an army of volunteers. Town councilor Jesse Gnazzo and Board of Education vice chair Nicole Palmieri are in charge of recruiting and organizing the more than 100 volunteers that make the festival possible.

Gnazzo explained that part of his job is ensuring that there are plenty of staff to work all shifts of the festival—which began in the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 23, and spanned until midday on Sunday, Aug. 25.

“For the food tent alone we need about 50 to 55, and then we have other groups that come in to handle parking and every other aspect of it… plus the fire department, the fire company and their families, which probably make up another 50 to 75 volunteers as well,” said Gnazzo. “It’s a great effort, everybody seems to enjoy it. You get to see a lot of people, spend a lot of time with a lot of people, and you’re doing something good for the community. That’s why I love being down here. That’s why I’m here.”

While there are many Plainvillites that volunteer as members of the festival crew, even more members of the community take part in the weekend of events. Spanning almost every walkway in Norton Park are craft and vendor booths, including booths for Plainville’s Democrats and Republicans.

Republican Town Committee chair Gayle Dennehy said the PRTC enjoys being able to converse will all attendees, and to share the values of the Republican party. At a personal level, Dennehy said she enjoys attending because of the positive attention the festival brings to the Plainville community.

“I love having an event here in town that brings people into our town. I like to see people notice that we’re here – it’s a small town feel, people are very generous with each other, and it’s just a feel good event,” she said. “And this year there’s more tents here with more entrepreneurship than I’ve seen—and that’s what America is all about.”

‘Global warming’ at its best. Propane flames create the lift needed as hot air balloons take off from Norton Park last weekend. The annual event draws people from across the state to witness hot air balloons floating over Plainville’s homes. (Photo by Lisa Sanchez Gonzalez)

“I love the Balloon Festival, the fire department does such an amazing job,” said Plainville resident, Ben Gediman. “I’ve never had the time or been able to volunteer at it before and this year I decided it was time.”

Some attendees travel from surrounding states, and some come from as close as Meriden, such as the Blake family—Dennis, Sara, and their sons Liam and Kane.

Dennis Blake said the hot air balloons and the car show was a big draw for his family. His son Liam even said that the car show was his favorite part of attending.

“There’s nothing like this in Meriden. They’ve got the Daffodil Festival but, nothing to do with cars,” said Dennis Blake.

By the end of the weekend, Lenois said there was only one thing left to do—thank all of the attendees and volunteers for making the festival a reality for 35 years.

“I thank the people that help us put this event on,” said Lenois. “Without the volunteers that we have in town, without the help of the PD and the town manager, this doesn’t happen.”

“You’ve got to say thank you,” he said.” That’s what I’d like to say, just, thanks for the support and thanks for the help. You know, we don’t reach out very much, but when we do it seems like people help us so, we appreciate that.”

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at TMurchison@BristolObserver.com.