- Ginny McCabe Contributing Writer
Prepare to be wowed.
A giant crab and a giant gator will be among the more than 30 balloons that are set to take flight during The Ohio Challenge Balloon Festival and Team Fastrax Warrior Weekend to Remember. The annual event will return to Middletown’s Smith Park/Middletown Regional Airport this weekend.
“This is a good, positive event for the city. Everyone loves to see the balloons. There’s always that ‘Wow’ factor. Spectators often wonder ‘How did they get up there?’ ‘How do they stay up there?’ and they follow them. It’s so cool,” said Kathy Stites, event manager, The Ohio Challenge.
Presented by Selection.com, the event runs Friday, July 21 and Saturday, July 22 from 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for the full festival including balloon competitions and balloon glows, fireworks, skydiving demonstrations, a laser light show, tethered balloon rides and live entertainment. There will also be carnival rides for children from Murray Brothers Amusements, Inc., expanded food booth offerings as well as 25 arts and crafts vendors on site.
Balloon activity only will continue the morning of Sunday, July 23 (no festival activity).
This is the 15th year for the festival, which has grown into one of the area’s largest, signature summer events. More than 300 volunteers come together to support the festivities. Organizers said about 55,000 guests attended the festival last year.
Here are 7 things to do, see and experience at The Ohio Challenge:
1. Hot air balloon launches, rides and competition
Check out launches of colorful balloons of all shapes and sizes.
Mass balloon launches and special shapes will take to the skies on Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Beyond the visual spectacle of bright colorful balloons in the sky, The Ohio Challenge is a sanctioned hot air balloon competition. This year 30 participants will compete for the Ohio Challenge Trophy and to qualify for a national tournament.
Experience the fun yourself with tethered hot air balloon rides for $10 and $15 or try out the Fluff & Puff balloon walk-through as well.
Call 513-932-3552 to arrange full paid rides.
All balloon activity is wind and weather permitting. Admission to the park is free during morning hours for those that would like to see the Saturday and Sunday morning balloon flights.
>> PHOTOS: Ohio Hot Air Balloon Challenge 2016
2. Night balloon glow
Balloons can look even more amazing at night. This year’s balloon glows will take place Friday and Saturday from 9:15 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.
A fireworks display sponsored by Start Skydiving will start around 10 p.m. Saturday. There will also be fireworks and a laser light show Friday night.
Team Fastrax skydiving performances will take place at 5:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. Friday and again at 4 p.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 8:15 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday.
5. Festival fun
Beyond the balloons, you’ll find plenty of family fun all weekend long.
The event will include outdoor concerts, arts and crafts, festival foods and carnival rides.
“There’s so much to do. There’s a little something for everybody. It’s a good family-oriented festival in the park. There’s a lot of good food, and a lot of great vendors. It’s a good place to be,” said Sean Askren, a Middletown resident, pilot committee member and FAA liaison.
There will be live music on Friday night with The Good Hooks and on Saturday evening featuring The Slyband from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Main Stage activities, including opening remarks and the National Anthem, will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. A Wounded Warrior Honoring Ceremony, recognizing Purple Hearts and Gold Stars will be held on Saturday from 7-8 p.m.
For a complete list of events and activities, go to www.ohiochallenge.com.
6. Car show
A car show will benefit the Research for GIST Cancer (stomach cancer). The show featuring 125-150 cars will be held on Saturday from 4 p.m.- 8 p.m. Registration for the car show is 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Cost to register is $15. Awards will be presented.
7. “Ready Teddy” drop
One new feature of the festival this year is Middletown Community Foundation’s “Ready Teddy” drop.
T. Duane Gordon, executive director, Middletown Community Foundation, a secondary sponsor of the event since its inception, said the “Ready Teddy” drop will support the organization’s “Ready” initiative, which raises money for education in the community.
“One of the ways we’re raising money is selling little teddy bears of Ready Teddy, and every person who buys a bear is entered into a contest to win several prizes, including some vacations that have been donated to the Foundation by Pierson Automotive. We will be putting every entrant’s ID number onto little plastic bears, and around 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, if the winds cooperate, Ready Teddy himself (the full-sized Ready Teddy) will be going up in a balloon with the little plastic bears to drop them toward a target. So, everyone will get to see them fall from the sky. The 10 bears that are closest to the target will win the 10 prizes we are giving away,” Gordon said.