Home Arts & Entertainment First annual hot air balloon festival in Grand Rapids

First annual hot air balloon festival in Grand Rapids

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Pilot Jeremy Droscha readying his balloon for lift-off. Photo by Jonathan D. Lopez

By Kayla Tucker – A&E/Features Editor

At 6:30 a.m. Saturday, a colorful variety of hot air balloons filled the sky behind the Gordon Food Services headquarters in Wyoming. This was the second and final day of the first annual Grand Rapids Balloon Festival, hosted by ReMax Real Estate of Grand Rapids.

The event began on Friday with food and games and a planned balloon launch in the evening that was cancelled due to weather. It continued Saturday with a balloon launch in the morning, food and games all day including a balloon walk through and a meet and greet with the pilots, then a final balloon launch in the evening.

A family-friendly event, the park was occupied by a handful of booths – including Paws with a Cause, Metro Health, and the Wyoming Police Retired Volunteer Patrol – kid friendly games and bounce houses, food trucks, and tours of a Wyoming fire truck, ambulance, and a tactical vehicle.

There was also an opportunity for visitors to walk inside the actual balloon that was laid on its side.

Twenty one pilots were invited to fly their balloons at the event. Paul Petrehn, pilot and employee of Cameron Balloons of Dexter, Michigan has been flying for 21 years and is enjoying every moment.

“I have flown in 40 different states. Japan and Brazil, Luxemburg, Hungary, Austria, Australia,” Petrehn said, noting that Japan was his favorite. When asked what is most fulfilling about piloting hot air balloons Petrehn responded, “Just sharing, sharing it with others and from my side working at the factory, I get to see somebody’s dream design become reality. So that’s gratifying as well.”

Besides lots of fun, there were other goals to be achieved with this event. Pat Pols, owner of ReMax of Grand Rapids was a key ringleader in all of the processes.

“Our main purpose is to give back to the community,” Pols commented. “Secondary is to help the charities financially and then to give them recognition.”

There are four charities that will be receiving 100 percent of the proceeds from the event: Metro Health Child Life Services, Starlight Shores Family Camp, Paws with a Cause, and Hug-A-Bear of Kent County.

Pols wants to continue this event annually, continuing to focus on charities. “Grand Rapids is such a growing city,” Pols said. “In the future years I expect [the festival] to grow.”