Event offering tethered balloon rides to prevent disturbing area livestock
By Candace Sipos -- firstname.lastname@example.org
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.