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This week’s edition!

Out & About with Rachel Morin: Hot air balloon ride celebrates Sam Campbell’s 10th birthday

Adam and Emma are overwhelmed!

Story and photo by Rachel Morin

As we all know, The Great Falls Balloon Festival, attracting hundreds of thousands of people and tourists from all over Maine and nearby states, is sadly not happening this August in Lewiston-Auburn, another casualty of the Corona Virus. It would have been the 28th Annual and it is the first time it missed a year. 

The Festival organizers met in early May and came to this decision after realizing they could not guarantee social distancing restrictions and the mandate that out of state visitors quarantine for two weeks.  They released a statement saying, “In times like these, the Great Falls Balloon Festival, must consider the health and safety of our Festival goers and their families as our top priority.” 

The Balloon Festival promotes tourism to Central Maine and the Festival’s mission is to help raise money for area charities.  The three-day August Festival attracts 100,000 annually and is one of the top money-raisers. The crowds enjoy visiting the many food booths and craft/trade shopping booths set up throughout the park.  

Several fun activities for children and adults in the other booths draw the crowds in as well.  Hundreds of volunteers work these booths and live entertainment is plentiful both days and evenings.  

It is a special time for seeing old friends and relatives, catching up on families’ news, seeing how much the children have grown since the last time we saw them, and seeing the newest babies that were born the past year is very exciting. It is a happy time and a rewarding time.  It is fun to see so many out-of-towners from all over Maine attend, and the growing number of out-of-state tourists add to the gaiety.    

My family and I have been to every Balloon Festival since its beginning in 1992 when it was an instant hit.  As each grandchild was born, my husband Gerry and I would take each by the hand and show them the wonders of the colorful hot air balloons rising majestically in the air and the breeze taking them over the Androscoggin River.  Sometimes the pilots would dip for a splash in the river much to the delight of the spectators on the North Bridge (James B. Longley Bridge) and South Bridge (Bernard Lown Peace Bridge).

I have so many vivid memories of each year’s Balloon Festival, but the tenth birthday of Sam Campbell, my first grandson, was stellar.  This was the year his paternal Grandmother, Betty Campbell of Auburn, now of Minot, decided they would celebrate his milestone 10th birthday early, (October 6) with a first-time hot air balloon ride together! Grammie and Sam talked of nothing else as the summer progressed to the big August 2001 date at Simard-Payne Memorial Park.

The entire Morin and Campbell Families, including aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and the rest of the balloon riders arrived early that day and waited patiently as they watched many balloons being inflated.  

Our balloon, The Jackie Balloon, piloted by Andre Boucher was one of the many balloons being inflated first. Each family had its assignment: each driver of the family cars would follow our balloon as best he could with the help of his passengers monitoring the sky overhead as the breeze carried the balloon along.        

We wanted to be on hand when The Jackie Balloon landed!  We had no idea of where the overhead breeze would take it or where it would land.  We followed by car, pretty good, I must say, though I was glad I was not the driver!

We even managed to take several photos, of which some are posted here for you to see.  We watched The Jackie Balloon fly over Cleveland Field in Auburn, then later over No Name Pond in Lewiston with many sightings in between.   

It really was the thrill of a lifetime for Sam and his Grandmother.  And even for the rest of us, especially for Sam’s younger siblings, Emma and Adam, who were really pumped up and overwhelmed.

After many sightings according to the whims of the breeze, our Jackie Balloon landed in Greene.  We were right there, helping to deflate the balloon and moving the basket where the pilot designated. 

There is ceremony and tradition for these balloon rides.  Pilot Andre Boucher related the history of the balloon landing and how the bottle of champagne is presented to the pilot, who pops the cork, giving the crowd a sense of the history, tradition and ceremony.

As it turned out, my son Gerry Morin caught the cork and so, received the first glass of champagne.   I was surprised to be offered the second glass. 

And so now in 2020, the Friends and Fans of The Great Falls Balloon Festival look forward hopefully to 2021, when once again they will look to the sky and see the bright, colorful balloons carried by a gentle breeze over the Androscoggin River.

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