Friday kicked off the 14th annual Chester County Balloon Festival. The 3-day event has been a hit in the Chester County community and its impact has branched to all regions of the Philadelphia area.
This is the first time an event like this has taken place in Chester County over the last year and a half as a result of the pandemic.
If you were to drive by the festival, you might miss it, as it takes place on a large steeplechase estate in acres of open grass fields. Guarded by large trees and a running creek, the event feels separated from the outside world.
The biggest attraction of this event has been the balloons. Katrina Banks, a success coach from a local university brought her students to the event as a team-building exercise. She “loves hot air balloon festivals” and even dreams to “go out to Arizona one day to the really large hot air balloon festival.” She has been a frequent visitor of the more local festivals, like Chester County’s.
“Anytime there is any festival in our local surrounding area, I always make it a point to come out here.” The event hosted close to 50 pilots and crew members and 20 separate balloons that were inflated.
On Friday, windy weather became a factor that jeopardized the flight and inflation of the balloons.
Ben Habbicki, a 30-year veteran hot air balloon pilot, said the factor was dangerous because, “As you’re inflating, if it blows the side in, the flame could melt [the balloon].” He went on to say that the tight-knit pilot community needed to be conscious of these factors at the event because of the potential risks. As the night went on, the wind died down and the balloons were able to fly.
The colors were vibrant and balloon designs included animal shapes, patterns, and even an American Flag. A number of balloons inflated and took off, flying above the festival and grabbing attendee’s attention. Some balloons stayed inflated on the ground and served as a colorful backdrop for the evening. Two smaller balloons were tethered to the ground and were used to bring guests up into the air for a short ride.
For guests like Katrina Banks, the event has a deeper connection as well.
“I tell my students to live their life in color so most all balloons are always colorful and there is something about the height and seeing them rise above going into the clouds is meaningful and powerful,” she said.
Once the sun sets, pilots inflate their balloons and continuously ignite their engines, giving the balloons a glow. This is accompanied by music, creating a unique atmosphere and visual spectacle.
While the balloons are the focal point of the festivals, another huge part of the event is the vendors. 31 vendors lined the grass field selling everything from bacon on a stick to handmade jewelry. A large percentage of the vendors are local companies with ties to the Chester County community.
Something that Laura Vargas, a visitor, is happy to be a part of- “I’m really into supporting our local entrepreneurs as much as we can, so I was really drawn to doing that again. I got to enjoy a lot of their really amazing products that either they made by hand or that they were working on within their own shops. It’s really awesome.” Food vendors are also a prominent point for the balloon festival experience. Options ranged from barbeque to seafood to water ice, in addition to a beer garden with local breweries.
Another important aspect of the event was the music. The festival housed a number of local artists and bands including Sweet Pill, a rock band made up of Rowan University Alum, Taylor Kelly, and Grace Vonderkuhn, two local Philly area music groups.
Beyond the balloons, the music, and the vendors, the Chester County balloon festival serves as a platform to educate visitors and raise money for non-profits. According to the organization, they aim to “open the doors of aviation, STEM education and nontraditional careers for women and men. To create wonderment and fulfillment to those who seek to experience hot air ballooning.” The festival had a number of tents with information on flights aimed at educating visitors. The festival also mentions that it donates to first responders through contributions to Chester County Hero Fund.