Up, up and away
Michael GordonMercury Staff
Ryanna QuaziMercury Staff
POSTEDSeptember 21, 2015
40 hot-air balloons, live performances kick-off Plano Balloon Festival
Hot-air balloons filled the sky as a 35-year-old annual celebration took place once again at Oak Point Park in Plano from Sept. 18-20.
The Plano Balloon Festival started back in 1980 when local balloonists gathered at polo fields to showcase their hot-air balloons. The fields were located where Willow Bend Mall is today.
After the first year, the event moved around to different locations, eventually finding a home at Bob Woodruff Park in Plano until 16 years ago.
As popularity and attendance grew, the festival was relocated to Oak Point Park, which is adjacent to the Collin College Spring Creek campus.
The three-day event featured 40 hot-air balloons, live performances by local artists, activities for kids and food.
Plano natives Liz and Robert Lafever have been attending the festival for 28 years. The family acknowledged how far the festival has come in such a short period of time.
“It used to be a craft fair and the vendors sold items made (by) hand. It used to be much less commercialized,” Robert said. “There are a ton of great food options that were not here over the past years.”
Jo Via — the executive director of the Plano Balloon Festival — was present at the first festival almost 40 years ago.
“The parents who brought their kids in the ’80s, their kids are now in their 20s (and) 30s and they are bringing their kids,” Via said. “We have three generations that are coming.”
Last year, it was estimated that 103,000 people attended the festival. Via expects the festival to continue to grow in size.
“There’s not much more entertainment you can find than the kaleidoscope of the color on the (balloons),” Via said. “There is a concert on the main stage, skydivers, obviously balloon launches, balloon glows and fireworks on Saturday night for $5.”
The festival also provides a way for Collin County nonprofits to fundraise and build awareness about the causes they support.
This year, about 53 Collin County-based nonprofits participated in the festival, providing services such as parking, admission control and selling tickets in the Kid’s Fun Zone.
The organizations will receive a percentage of the money made based on the amount of volunteers participating.
One of the nonprofits — the Plano West Rotary Club — has kept its presence at the festival for many years.
“This is probably our 25th year,” Fred Bemenderfer, the former president and current Youth Services Director of the club, said. “We started out over at Bob Woodruff and then they brought it over to Collin College.”
Though the revenue accumulated doesn’t go directly to the nonprofit, Plano West Rotary donates the money to other organizations, such as Barron Elementary School in Plano.
“We donate a part of the money to help them with their field day … and also with their funding for things that they need that the school does not cover for them,” Bermenderfer said.
Dan Mitchell, a Plano native who is a regular at the festival, said this year was another success.
“It’s great for the city of Plano and the people of the area,” Mitchell said. “We love our city and the festival has been an amazing experience.”