Flying in the city: Balloons over Forest Park

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Jessica Park / Chief Illustrator

Jessica Park / Chief Illustrator

This coming Friday, Sept. 19, balloons will fill the air in preparation for the Great Forest Park Balloon Race.  The race, celebrating its 42nd year, will be held on Saturday, Sept. 20.  There will be music, fireworks, and skydivers to add to the entertainment of the balloon race.  The Great Forest Park Balloon Race is an old St. Louis tradition that has been well-attended for years.

The festivities begin at Central Fields in Central Park 7 p.m. Friday.  Those touring will have a chance to view all of the balloons, inflated and lit up by their burners.  This is known as the Balloon Glow and will be followed by a free firework show at 9 p.m. that is sponsored by PNC Bank.

During the Balloon Glow, onlookers can purchase tickets to the Humane Society of Missouri’s Glow in the Park dinner.  Proceeds of the dinner will benefit the Animal Cruelty Fund.  The dinner will include cocktails and dancing, as well as the view of the balloons and fireworks.  VIP packages are available for those interested.

Saturday, at noon the festivities will kick off again with pony rides, dog shows, and the opening of the entertainment stages.  The Miller Lite Skydivers will make an appearance at the event, landing in the launch zone for the balloons before the opening ceremonies.  Finally, at 4:30p.m., the race begins.

The race will be set up as a ‘hound and hare’ race.  The hare balloon (role being filled by the Energizer Bunny Balloon) will take off at 4:30 p.m.  It will then fly for 15 minutes and land.  Wherever it lands is now the target for the ‘hounds’.  The hound balloons, will begin to depart Central Fields at 4:45 p.m. and will try to fly as close to the target as possible and drop a bag of birdseed on the target.  Whichever balloon is the closest to the target, is declared the winner.

The last two winners of the race, Joe Nusrala and Scott Wooge are both from St. Louis.  Of the 41 years that this competition has taken place, the winners have been from St. Louis 16 times, more than any other city.  The race has only seen one tie, back in 1976 and only has been canceled once in 1983 due to high winds that proved too dangerous to the ballooners.

In 2000, the Great Forest Park Balloon Race was inducted into the Library of Congress.  It has been honored as a Local Legacy and represented the state of Missouri on a national level.

The event has 44 sponsors this year and four different media sponsors.  More than 150,000 spectators are projected to show up to watch 70 world-class balloon pilots compete.  Admission is free and open to pets.  Spectators are encouraged to bring some money for the food court that will be set up in Forest Park.

SLU students will be able to get a good glimpse of the balloons cruising over campus.  However, if weather will not permit the balloons to fly on Saturday, the race will be re-scheduled to Sunday, Sept. 21.