Balloon fest to return, with some changes
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Sequim Balloon Festival Executive Dirtor Randall Tomaras said of this year's inaugural festival: "It was a learning curve.”

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM — Despite Balloon Festival attendance that fell below expectations over the Labor Day weekend, the show will go on for a second year in 2013 — with one big change, event Executive Director Randall Tomaras said Tuesday.

Tomaras expects organizers of the first Sequim Balloon Festival will offer balloon rides and festival events at one venue next year rather than doing what they did this year: have morning balloon rides at Sequim Valley Airport while later in the day, food and craft booths and musical events — and one tethered ride, a RE/MAX balloon offering rides as a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula — were offered 7.5 miles away at 792 West Sequim Bay Road.

“That will be a big change,” Tomaras said.

“It was a learning curve, and there are a lot of things that will be changing based on what we learned,” he said.

“Right now, I'd say it's certain” there will be a 2013 festival, Tomaras added.

He estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people a day attended the Sept. 1-3 festival.

“They were hoping there would be 10,000 a day, but for a first-year event, we are happy with what we did,” Tomaras said.

About a dozen balloons, costing between $30,000 and $250,000, and their pilots took part in the festival and gave rides over the Sequim-Dungeness Valley from the airport, where the 15-acre parking lot was filled with riders' and spectators' vehicles around 6 a.m., he said.

“Basically, they filled the parking lot,” Tomaras said.

The tree-filled terrain combined with nearby power lines would have made it dangerous and impractical to give rides from the Grant family field on West Sequim Bay Road where the festival action was taking place, he said.

But in any case, balloon rides would not have been offered by midday because of weather that was too warm and windy.

Even tethered rides during midday are too hard on the balloons, which have a lifespan of 500 hours of flight, Tomaras said.

“One hour of tethering is equal to four hours of flight because of the thermals,”
he said.

“That's why they go up early, when the earth has been cooled and there's not as much wind,” Tomaras said.

“We made the decision a long time ago to do it from the airport.”

At the festival grounds — which opened at 10 a.m. — there were 46 food and craft booths at the festival grounds and 17 performing bands.

“We tried to bring in as much music in the day as we could and arts and crafts, to try to give them something to do all day long from morning to evening,” Tomaras said.

Financials for the festival are still being figured out, he said.

“We're still collecting bills and figuring out what needs to be paid,” Tomaras said, adding that he's hoping sponsorships can help fund the 2013 event.

“When I talked to restaurants and hotels and motels, they all said they were really busy,” Tomaras added.

In his effort to make the festival a complete experience, Tomaras spent last week and Monday ushering around professional photographers to the Hoh Rain Forest, Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent and other popular destinations to experience what he called, weather-wise, the best 10 days in Washington.

“We went all over the Peninsula,” Tomaras said.

“Hopefully, that translates into more tourism for our Peninsula.”

About 20 percent to 30 percent of the rooms at the 77-room Holiday Inn Express in Sequim — about one-tenth of a mile from the festival grounds — were occupied by Sequim Balloon Festival participants, hotel general manager Toni Skinner said Tuesday.

“A lot of people were surprised they were in the middle of a festival who were getting away for a quiet weekend from Seattle,” she added.

“The usual holiday families were pleased to find it available to them.”

Among those who visited the North Olympic Peninsula solely for the balloon festival, a sense of purpose prevailed, Skinner said.

“A lot of people said, 'This is on my bucket list,'” she recalled.

“It gave people in this part of the world an opportunity to fulfill a dream.”



Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 11. 2012 5:49PM
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