By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – On Friday and Saturday, August 17 and 18, Muskogee’s historic Hatbox Field will be the site for the first ever Oklahoma Festival of Ballooning. The festival is free and open to visitors of all ages.
Hatbox Field is located at 4000 Border Street, just West of Highway 69 in Muskogee. VIP passes are available for $25, which include VIP parking, canopy with shaded seating area and beverage sales, as well as prime viewing of the hot air balloons.
Dozens of balloon pilots and their crews are expected to participate with many of those competing for the Oklahoma Hot Air Balloon Championship Governor’s Trophy.
This inaugural event is presented by Muskogee Parks & Recreation Department with hot air balloon event management provided by Kansas City AeroSports. Additional support is provided by the City of Muskogee, Muskogee Tourism and the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We are excited to welcome hot air balloons to Muskogee! Hatbox Field has seen many different aircraft over the years,” said Mark Wilkerson, director of Muskogee Parks and Recreation. “It seems fitting to celebrate its history as well as its value to our community today with colorful lighter-than-air aircraft.”
Both Friday and Saturday evenings will feature luminous balloon glowing for all to enjoy.
There will be a limited number of passenger rides available throughout the weekend for those wanting to reserve an opportunity to fly along with the festival’s pilots as they compete for the 2018 Governor’s Trophy.
There will be $15 tether rides available for those wanting to experience a few minutes in a floating balloon basket that is tied to the ground.
Ballooning will take place on Friday from 5 – 10 p.m. On Saturday, balloons will fly from 7 – 10 a.m. and again from 5 – 10 p.m.
All hot air balloon activities will be dependent on weather conditions deemed safe for pilots, crews, passengers and spectators.
Food and beverage vendors will be selling a wide variety of menu options on site. Entertainment and family friendly activities will also be available.
The competition segment of the event is the only one of its kind in the state. Competition events are held worldwide as a draw for pilots who are interested in honing their skills. Required tasks vary and are often not announced until the day of the event. Pilots may be asked to fly into or out of the competition field, based on current weather conditions, including wind direction and speeds.
In some events, hot air balloon pilots may be asked to drop a small weighted marker at the center of a large X target, grab an object off the top of a large pole, or other skillful activity that requires careful planning, precision flying and navigating changing wind conditions.
“We look forward to awarding the trophy to the Oklahoma State Champion in Muskogee,” said Chris Sabia of Kansas City AeroSports, balloonmeister and event manager of the Oklahoma Festival of Ballooning.
In addition to the spectacular array of colorful hot air balloons that will fill the Muskogee sky, a star-studded lineup of some of Oklahoma’s favorite bands will perform during the two-day event. Grammy-nominated and Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame Rising Star recipient, John Fullbright will perform, along with the Red Dirt Rangers, the popular Muskogee band Second Wind, and others. A full list of bands and performance times is available online. www.visitmuskogee.com/oklahoma-festival-of-ballooning.
Parking passes are $10 per day per vehicle and Special Inaugural Year RV Camping spots can be purchased for $10 per night.