Thousands pack into Middletown for hot air balloon event

Gusty wind kept balloons on the ground for some of the Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival, but it didn’t keep spectators away from the annual event at Smith Park.

Event Manager Kathy Stites said the hot air balloons were grounded Friday night, but about 15,000 to 20,000 people packed Smith Park pack that night for the 14th annual event.

Organizers said 60,000 people were expected for the festival.

The balloons were able to launch Saturday morning, but organizers were concerned about the wind in the afternoon. The event continues on Sunday with a balloon challenge.

Carrie Kemper has traveled with her kids from Troy to the festival for the past five years.

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“I’ve seen them launch once,” she said.

Katie Duvelius of Middletown said she has been to the event every year since 2010 and it doesn’t really matter if the balloons take to the sky.

“They’ll still come out here and sit out in front of us and the kids can look at them and stuff so it doesn’t bother us,” she said.

The three-day event included balloon competitions and balloon glows, fireworks, skydivers, lasers and pyrotechnics, tethered balloon rides and a Wounded Warrior Honoring Ceremony.

There was a five and 10K walk/run and bike ride earlier in the day to honor veterans and Emily Mather, whose husband Michael was an honoree in 2013, was the volunteer coordinator for the veterans activities, she said there were about 45 to 50 people who walked or ran. She said the event is “amazing.”

“What they (veterans) take away from this is a lifetime of friendships and everybody is like family…,” she said. “It gives these guys a chance to escape from the hardships of PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury). As a care giver it’s so special to be able to see a smile on my husband’s face because it doesn’t happen very often.”

Stites said there are about 400 volunteers who put on the show, which also featured a charity car show. The manager said the event is a real boon for the city.

“It’s very important. We have people coming from all over,” she said.

Jesse and Tina Brandenburg of Carlisle, who were sitting in back of their red 1968 Chevy Camaro, said this was their first time participating in the car show. Tina grew up in Middletown and her husband said the event is good for the city.

“It’s good to see Middletown have something to bring a lot of people in,” Jesse Brandenburg said.

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