Hot air craft will fill skies over the valley this weekend
By Don Nelson
About this time of year, Kurt Oakley cheerfully describes himself as a “balloonatic” in preparation for the annual Winthrop Balloon Roundup, a three-day festival celebrating the uplifting qualities of hot air.
Oakley and his wife, Melinda, owners of Morning Glory Balloon Tours, are once again the primary organizers of the event, which runs from Friday (March 6) through Sunday.
Balloons are scheduled to rise from a field behind the Winthrop Inn on Highway 20 about 7 a.m. each day, weather conditions permitting. Balloons need nearly still air to safely drift down the Methow River Valley.
Oakley said he expects 12 to 15 balloons this year, or perhaps more if favorable weather forecasts hold up.
“The weather [outlook] is shaping up really well,” Oakley said on Monday (March 2). “Our confidence is high.” He said the field from which the balloons life off is in good condition.
On Saturday (March 7) at 6 p.m., a portion of Riverside Avenue in Winthrop will be closed for the free “balloon glow” event during which balloons are inflated in the street.
Spectators and photographers (often one and the same) can watch it all for free. If you are interested in being part of a “chase crew” to follow and pick up balloonists when they land, contact Oakley at 997-1700. Viewers are asked not to bring their dogs. Property owners who have concerns about where the balloons might land can also call Oakley at that number.
The best spots for viewing and photography are along Highway 20, Witte Road and Old Twisp Highway between Winthrop and Twisp, or on Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road.
Oakley said Okanogan County Energy (a subsidiary of Okanogan County Electric Cooperative) will again provide free propane for all the visiting balloonists, who use propane burners to inflate their craft.
The festival is presented by Morning Glory Balloons and sponsored by the Pine Near RV Park, River’s Edge Resort, the Winthrop Inn and the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce. For more information, visit www.balloonwinthrop.com/balloonroundup.