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City to hold small-scale balloon festival in October

City officials are planning a Balloon Fall Fest to fill the void created by the cancellation of the 2020 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

This year’s October sky may be more than blue after all.

Although COVID-19 prompted cancellation of the 2020 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque officials say they are working to get some balloons in the air anyway with a new event they have dubbed Balloon Fall Fest. The city has invited local pilots to participate in a series of scattered launches at city golf courses and parks from Oct. 3 to 11. The launches will be closed to the public.

City Parks and Recreation Director Dave Simon estimated that about 200 hot air balloon pilots live in the Albuquerque area and said Wednesday that several dozen pilots have signaled interest in the city’s plan.

“We are really excited so many balloonists are indicating they want to fly,” Simon said during a news conference about the festival Wednesday afternoon at Balloon Fiesta Park.

The city-owned park is base for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a privately run event that attracts several hundred pilots to the city from around the world each October. But given the viral pandemic, organizers decided in June to call off this year’s event.

Looking to at least partly fill the void, city officials designed the Balloon Fall Fest.

“We believe Albuquerque families still deserve, and should, see balloons in the sky in the fall,” Mayor Tim Keller said.

The program is modeled after the city’s 2020 Fourth of July festivities. Unable to host its customary single-site holiday extravaganza due to restrictions on gatherings, the city instead spread the program around the metro area. Fireworks were shot off at four sites that were closed to the public, but the displays were intended to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Keller called the model a success.

“It was very well-received. It was safe. People seemed to appreciate it and follow the rules around it,” he said. “I think people also really appreciated the fact we did something.”

The Balloon Fall Fest plan includes launches at select sites the mornings of Oct. 3, 4, 7, 10 and 11. They will take off between 7 and 7:30 a.m. if weather permits, Simon said.

The city will also open the Balloon Fiesta Park gates to pilots every day of the festival’s run, though it will prohibit spectators.

The city is still considering other potential sites, and pilots will help determine the locations. Simon identified North Domingo Baca Park, Vista del Norte Park, Mariposa Basin Park and Ventana Ranch Park as other promising launch venues.

“The balloons are going to be widely spaced, and the balloon crews will be limited in size,” he said.

The city will restrict public access to the selected locations during the launch windows, he said. Measures will include parking lot closures.

In an effort to make it a safe, coordinated event, the city is requiring pilots to register. Keller said that will also help the city communicate any COVID-related regulations to pilots who may want to come from elsewhere, including the mandatory 14-day quarantine from certain states.

“If they’re coming in from Moriarty, I think we’re OK. … If it’s out of state, they have to follow all the state orders – there is no exception made to any state public health order,” he said.

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