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Of wine and wind

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Hot air balloons are inflated at Long Branch in preparation for the 2008 balloon festival. Dennis Grundman/Daily file

Event offering tethered balloon rides to prevent disturbing area livestock

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

MILLWOOD -- This year, there will be a key difference at the Shenandoah Valley Hot Air Balloon Wine and Music Festival -- the only balloons will be tied to the ground.

According to Angela Anderson, director of events for Long Branch Historic House and Farm in Clarke County, where the 15th annual event will be held, the organization decided against providing longer flights for guests. There will be one balloon giving tethered rides about 200-300 feet in the air for around $20 a person, three balloons set up as a static display and one lying on its side for educational purposes. Guests will have the opportunity to walk through that balloon while its being blown up and learn how it functions.

"We are hoping with this new policy that we will increase the visibility of the balloons throughout the weekend as well as provide the opportunity ... to take more rides," Anderson said.

In years past, many of the balloons scheduled to fly couldn't because of the weather, she explained. But concern that was first voiced several years ago also played a part in this decision, Anderson said.

According to Robina Bouffault, a Clarke County School Board member and animal activist, large numbers of hot air balloons used to fly from Long Branch during the festival, following the wind's direction. They would often come down on private property where they weren't welcome or fly very low, barely over the treetops. In that case, they're only about 300 feet above county residents' property, when they're legally supposed to stay 500 feet above property, she said.

"If you do that you will scare the livestock," Bouffault said, noting that one of her horses was spooked by the noise of a hot air balloon's burners turning on and ran into a tree branch, causing about $1,000 worth of damage to one of its legs. Another local resident lost a "very pricey yearling," when the horse ran through a fence because of a balloon, she noted.

But Bouffault said this issue is not much of a problem anymore, since Long Branch made some modifications to its policy. They started mapping out where balloonists should avoid landing.

Other than this major change and the availability of beer throughout the three-day event, Anderson said the rest will stay largely the same.

The event will start at 4 p.m. Friday and, with nighttime breaks, last until 4 p.m. on Sunday. On Friday, the traditional glow activity will occur, when tethered balloons will light up the sky. Guests can enjoy tasting a variety of Virginia wines while listening to music from local artists. Until the end of the day today, weekend passes can be purchased for $30, which does not include wine tasting. All tickets bought at the gate will cost $5 more, but guests can purchase tickets for only one day -- $10 for Friday and $20 for Saturday or Sunday. Children ages 12 and under receive free admission.

Last year, more than 24,000 people showed up to the festival, Anderson said.


So let me see if I read this correctly: The Shenandoah Valley Hot Air balloon Festival, will no longer feature hot air balloons such as the Albuquerque event, only a token tethered one and three static displays? So whats the point in going if you are going for the balloons?

I don't drink wine, but I enjoy the balloon aspect. Why would I pay that much money for what I would get in return? I have empathy for the injured animals...but perhaps the balloonists should get together and find a more appropriate area to have the gathering...for FLIGHT

Right, one of the most rewarding parts of going to this festival is seeing all of the balloons in the air, with fall scenery in the background. This new plan is HARDLY worth a $20.00 admittence fee per person. Well, actually neither is the old way for that matter. The festival does not have enough activity period for the prices that they are charging. Change is inevitable, I know. But the economy is not getting any better to justify such nonsense.

As someone who attends the festival at least one day every year, I can't remember the last time I actually saw the balloons fly...At least this way some balloons will be present. I agree it's disappointing but I imagine this year it will be more of a balloon festival than it has in recent years.

I have been looking forward to this event since last year. But, like 'rustysgal' and 'humored', I am very disappointed to read that only one tethered balloon and 3 static balloons will be at the "balloon" festival this year. I think $20 to see 4 grounded balloons is way too steep. I drink wine but don't want to pay another $15 just to be frustrated by the hoards of people trying to get a taste of wine. I guess I'll take my hard earned money and spend it at the local vineyards where I can relax and enjoy the tastings. And I'll be looking for a real balloon festival to attend next year.

It really shouldn't be called the balloon festival any more if the balloons aren't even going to launch. I'm really disapointed and won't be attending this year. I understand about the livestock, but I've attended this festival every year just to watch the balloons launch (weather permitting) and now that they aren't even going to do that, there is no reason to spend $20. I went to the website to make sure I was reading this correctly and it no longer has the launches scheduled at sunrise and sunset. They need to rename it to the Wine and Crafts Festival

Another victim of the big-city transplants. The good thing is the city folk are still scared of WV. Maybe we can carry our way of life across the border once they ruin the valley.

We probably have as many horses and ponies on pasture as just about anyone in Clarke County. In all the years the balloons flew directly over our farm I never saw the animals pay any attention to them. Talking to neighboring breeders I believe that this is the case for just about every horse farm in the County. It is a shame that the two people who complained to the Press has practically destroyed the Festival.

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