Long before social distancing was en vogue, kite flying was the type of activity that allowed an individual to have some personal space.
Even as vaccines are distributed and COVID-19 restrictions gradually begin to relax, many folks still prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to gathering with others outside of their social circle. For those who do want to venture out but don’t want to get too risky, Wildlife West Nature Park’s 18th annual Wind Festival might just be the ideal event.
“Here’s the beauty of it all: The kite field is wide open,” says park founder and director Roger Alink. “The nature of flying kites is you’re spaced out already because you don’t stand right next to somebody and fly your kite because it’ll get tangled up.
“Because the spacing, it’s kind of the nature of flying kites. So our six-foot spacing that’s recommended is gonna just be obvious. That’s the beauty of (it).”
Located on a 30-acre field on the outskirts of the zoo, the kite festival is free to the public and takes place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 1 and Sunday, May 2. Those who attend can either bring their own kites or purchase one at the event. Alink estimates that 100 kites will be sold over the course of the weekend. For beginners, he recommends the Delta model, of which there will be plenty on hand for sale.
“They are really easy to fly and are durable,” Alink said. “For amateurs, that’s really (the best option).”
Novices won’t be flying blind, either. Kite professional Carveth Kramer frequently makes the trip to attend the event from Taos, and he will be readily available to make sure rookies won’t have trouble with getting off the ground or getting their strings tangled. Kramer is also a vendor for flying banners, which offer a slightly different element than traditional kites.
“They are very colorful and they’re probably six to eight feet tall,” Alink said. “They’re on a pole and so it’s like a flag, only it’s a lot taller – maybe not quite as wide.”
For those who simply want to observe, Kramer will be accompanied by several professional kite flyers, many of whom operate more advanced two-string models.
“They take some practice because they can tangle up real easily,” Alink said. “In the maneuvers, it depends on the wind, the kites can go up to 100 miles per hour and it pulls on you really hard. It’s not for amateurs, really. It’s practice and experience.”
The professionals won’t necessarily be on hand for scheduled exhibitions – the Wind Festival is more of an informal gathering of kite enthusiasts – but the combination of novice and skilled flyers is a site to behold. Think of it as a smaller-scale, kite version of the Balloon Fiesta, complete with picnic tables and a food truck (This year’s offering is courtesy of Taco Zone).
In peak hours, Alink says he’s seen as many as 50 kites in the air at once.
“We’re visible from I-40. The truckers and the people drive by and honk their horns because they see all this colorful stuff going on in the field,” Alink said. “That’s, of course, kites in the air. So it’s a real attraction for just the passerbys as well as participants.”
The Wind Festival initially began at Edgewood Elementary before relocating to the Wildlife West Nature Park. It’s been a natural transition, because attendees can make a day of it by flying their kites and then paying admission to see the 23 species of wildlife inside the zoo. Over the course of a day, prizes – usually stuffed animals from the zoo gift shop – are awarded for the highest kite, youngest flyer and most spectacular crash.
For the nearly 74-year-old Alink, keeping the tradition going from one location to another and into a pandemic was a no-brainer. He’s been flying kites since he was kid growing up in Minnesota, when he’d make his own models with his dad.
“Flying a kite, the tug on your string, is special,” he said. “It’s kind of real.”