[box size=”large” border=”full”]Why it’s awesome: The Michigan Challenge Balloonfest is a great event for the whole family with a carnival, food, an arts and crafts show, but most of all, the skies will be filled the whole weekend with hot air balloons.[/box]
Around this time of year, Howell begins to look a little bit like a scene out of a Jules Verne novel. The air becomes clustered with hot air balloons. This huge burst in the hot air balloon travel is due to the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest.
This year is the 27th year of the Balloonfest since the event began in 1984. The event is hosted by the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce. This year, 47 balloons are expected to be seen in the air. The event also has a mix of events that have been a tradition for years, and new events, all to keep patrons coming back year after year.
This year, the Balloonfest partners with NASA to bring a space exploration trailer to the event. The trailer features a 3D movie about the moon, the opportunity to touch a moon rock, and also the opportunity to get your picture taken as an astronaut. Also new this year, throughout Saturday, there were be B-25 flyovers. These classic World War Two bombers will be taking off from Livingston County Spencer J. Hardy Airport. People can also purchase rides on the B-25s for a fee.
On the main stage Saturday, Lookin’ Back, a Bob Seger tribute band rocked the Balloonfest. Crowds gathered to see them perform at 8 p.m. Lookin’ Back was eager to please as they played all of the Bob Seger hits that the fans know and love.
Following Lookin’ Back were two festival traditions. The Paul McCowan airshow has been coming to the Balloonfest for a number of years. They do skydiving jumps preceding the balloon launches, and they also do a jump preceding the Balloon Glow. The night skydiving Saturday night used special pyrotechnics so that you could see the skydivers sparkle as they fell from the sky. After that was the Balloon Glow, an event favorite for many Balloonfest veterans.
After dark, hot air balloons, by law, are not allowed to leave the ground, but that doesn’t mean they can’t light up their burners. This causes the balloons to function as gigantic lanterns, and the effect is quite beautiful. If you sit close to the fence, you can even feel the heat coming off of the balloons.
Balloon launches are of course a magical experience for event patrons. Mass balloon launches take place early in the morning and in the evening. The balloon pilots take part in competitions with one another at the festival such as trying to drop a marker onto a huge target on the landing field.
“One thing that is unique to the Michigan Challenge is that our guests sit feet away from the where the pilots launch,” says Michelle Tokan, Michigan Challenge Director.
Some other popular events include the Windjammers Stunt Kite Team, and America’s Best Frisbee Dogs. The Windjammers Stunt Kite Team does choreographed kite routines with up to 78 kites at once. They do these kite routines to music and the sight is absolutely mesmerizing.
Michigan State fans may have heard of America’s Best Frisbee Dogs. According to Michelle, “A lot of people from Michigan State recognize them because Zeke The Wonderdog performs at a lot of the Michigan State sporting events.” America’s Best Frisbee dogs have been performing at the Balloonfest for the past 3 or 4 years, and they are a crowd favorite.
“There’s something to do from early in the morning until late in the evening,” says Michelle, “we encourage families to come to the event early, have a lot of fun, spend the day at the event.”
Other activities included an arts and crafts show, and a carnival brought in by Wade shows. Saturday there were kids activities located in Downtown Howell on the Courthouse lawn. Also, Friday night there was a fantastic fireworks display sponsored by Medilodge.
This is one of the biggest festivals that Howell has to offer, and there is truly something for everyone. ~Brittany Green, Regional Director
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View more photos from this event on Flickr.