Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

June 20, 2013

To the Skies

By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — Ottumwans will turn their eyes to the sky this weekend as hot air balloons float above the city.

The 36th annual Ottumwa Pro Balloon Races kicked off Wednesday night with carnival rides, Ottumwa Shrine Club’s barbecue pork dinner, Ottumwa Municipal Band concert and balloon activities. The fun continues throughout the weekend with more food, music, entertainment and of course, skies filled with hot air balloons.

This year, 36 pilots from six states — Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin — will maneuver their balloons above Ottumwa as they try to drop baggies onto targets as accurately as possible.

“The fun flight [Friday night] is really a chance for the pilots to be able to meet up with their sponsors and take the sponsor for a ride,” said Dale Dommer, who organizes the balloon races every year alongside his wife, Holly.

During the fun flight, the pilot tries to grab a ring off the top of a pole to win $250. But to up the ante, if the sponsor agrees to fly, the pilot could win $500 if he or she snags the ring.

The fun flight does not count for the overall competition, though. The real competition begins at 6 a.m. Saturday.

Pilots are given different colored baggies, which they have to drop as close to the center of an “X” as possible at two or three locations across the city.

“The balloonmeister [Bill Clemons] determines where the ‘X’ is going to be placed, and sometimes it can be pretty challenging,” he said. “It’s all a matter of accuracy, trying to get as close to the center of the ‘X.’”

But sometimes instead of dropping a baggie on an “X,” the pilots will instead be asked to throw baggies into two large triangles, the distance between them counting toward their final score.

The pilots have no clue what the “course” looks like until they arrive for their pilot meeting half an hour before the flight.

Following the flights on Friday and Saturday night, pilots will tether their balloons to the field next to Jimmy Jones Shelter for the popular night glow.

Those eager to watch fireworks light up the night sky may have to rethink the best vantage point this year, Dommer said. Fireworks will be moved south of the field.

“You have to have a 300-foot radius,” he said. “If they’re on the west edge, we give up a lot of parking. But we also have a problem with some of the fallout of the fireworks coming down and burning holes in the carnival tents. And they’re not good in the Bark Park because they’re far away and the lights of the carnival wash them out. So we moved them to the old beach area in the other quadrant of the park by the softball fields.”

The best place to watch the fireworks will be right in the balloon field looking south, he said.

“If you normally go to the mall to watch them, you may not have a real good vantage point,” he said. “This helps to bring people into the park, which is where we want people. My guess is from The Beach, Bridge View Center, anywhere on Church Street, [Community First Credit Union] or McDonald’s ... I think you’ll have a pretty good vantage point.”

Dommer said they try to do one event slightly different from the year prior, which is why they chose to move the fireworks this year.

“We’re going to stick our neck out and try something new,” he said.

And attendees won’t have to drive all over town to participate in the packed schedule, since everything is located either in Jimmy Jones Shelter or throughout Ottumwa Park.

There’s also no cost or entry fee to get into the park or to watch the bands perform. The only time you may need to open your wallet is to spend money at the various vendors or to snag a $20 wristband for unlimited rides at the carnival on Sunday.

According to the National Weather Service in Des Moines, there are small chances for rain and thunderstorms throughout the balloon races.

Today shows a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, though it’s expected to reach 86 degrees. Friday has a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms with a high near 88 degrees, though wind gusts could reach 18 mph. Saturday has a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms and will be cooler, around 72 degrees. The last day of the balloon races, Sunday, is predicted to be mostly sunny, with a high near 88 degrees.

Dommer said the event’s Facebook page will be updated right from the field as decisions are made. Search for Ottumwa Pro Balloon Races on Facebook and “like” the page in order to receive updates throughout the event.

“We’ll also be making on-field announcements and calling the radio stations,” he said. “But even during a thunderstorm the band will play on, the beer garden will be open under the shelter house. We’ll never fully cancel an entire night.”

When the event is put together, there are weather-contingent events, such as the balloon flights and fireworks, but Dommer said they also plan events that can continue despite the weather, including the kiddie tractor pull, chili cook-off, wine tasting and concerts.

“We’ll have those kind of events rain or shine,” he said. “For us, yeah, it’s a balloon race event and the big bonus for everyone is when the balloons get to fly, but we don’t just hang our hat on that. Stuff will still go on, even if it’s raining.”

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.


Schedule of events Thursday 5 p.m.-close: Sam's Amusements 5-10 p.m.: Budweiser beer garden 6-8 p.m.: Hogs 4 Dogs USA bike night 6 p.m.: TOM-FM hot air contest 6:30-9:30 p.m.: Band, "Jennifer Handling and Revolution Band' 7 p.m.: Balloon activities Friday 5 p.m.-close: Sam's Amusements 5 p.m.-midnight: Budweiser beer garden 6 p.m.: Balloon fun flight Dusk: Balloon night glow 8 p.m.-midnight: Band, "Mr. Fugly" 10 p.m.: Fireworks Saturday 5:30 a.m.: Hi-Noon Kiwanis pancake breakfast 6 a.m.: Balloon competition flight 11 a.m.: Kiddie tractor pull Noon: Chili cook-off tasting and judging Noon-close: Sam's Amusements Noon-midnight: Budweiser beer garden 1-4 p.m.: Wine tasting 6 p.m.: Balloon competition flight Dusk: Balloon night glow 8 p.m.-midnight: Band, "The Crushers" 10 p.m.: Fireworks (if canceled Friday night) Sunday 5:30 a.m.: Hi-Noon Kiwanis pancake breakfast 6 a.m.: Balloon competition flight 1 p.m.-close: Sam's Amusements ($20 unlimited ride wristband) 1-4 p.m.: "Just Dance" tournament 1-4 p.m.: Healthy Family Fest