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Scaring up a good time: Balloons headed to Maumelle for Halloween Boo-lloon Fest

By Emily Van Zandt

This article was originally published October 14, 2012 at 12:00 a.m. Updated October 12, 2012 at 2:42 p.m.

balloonists-prepare-for-flight-in-maumelle-during-a-june-piloting-competition-with-about-a-dozen-other-balloonists-from-all-over-the-country-the-balloonists-were-participating-in-various-events-as-part-of-the-great-war-memorial-balloon-race

Balloonists prepare for flight in Maumelle during a June piloting competition with about a dozen other balloonists from all over the country. The balloonists were participating in various events as part of the Great War Memorial Balloon Race.

— Lisa Archer expects a good crowd at Maumelle’s inaugural Halloween Boo-lloon Fest — that is, if people can tear themselves from the Arkansas-Ole Miss football game.

“We realize the game is going to be big that Saturday,” Archer said. “Depending on the time, we may set up some kind of tailgating event to get people out.”

The fest, slated for Oct. 26-28 in Lake Willastein Park, will feature about 10 hot-air balloons with pilots from all over the state. A balloon-glow event will be held Friday and Saturday at dusk, with competition balloon races taking place early Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Archer, a Maumelle resident and hot-air balloon pilot, was approached by the Maumelle Chamber of Commerce to coordinate the event as a fundraiser after she helped coordinate the Great War Memorial Balloon Race this summer.

Archer has been flying hot-air balloons for more than 20 years. She chased her first hot-air balloon (following the balloon to help with landing) while she was volunteering at an Arkansas Children’s Hospital event.

“I’ve been hooked ever since,” Archer said.

Hot-air ballooning is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, and just like a helicopter or airplane pilot, Archer had to go through training before she could take to the air on her own.

Maumelle police officer Lt. Mike Wilson, a certified hot-air-balloon pilot since the ’80s, helped train her.

“As long as you have the aptitude, learning is pretty easy,” Wilson said.

At least 10 hours of training, plus special flights at high altitude, are required for a license. And then there’s the cost of the balloon itself. With prices anywhere from $25,000 to $75,000 for a balloon, many pilots can’t afford their own, Wilson said. Instead, many enthusiasts form clubs that chip in together and rent a balloon out to licensed members.

Wilson owns his own single-man balloon, but he can most often be found flying for businesses such as Re/Max. Wilson will serve as “Balloonmeister” at the Maumelle event.

If the weather and winds are nice, the balloons will launch between 6 and 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday for the competition races.

“Race is a bit of a misnomer,” Wilson said. “It’s more like sailing. You have to get up early to check the wind speed and plot your course.”

The “races” involve pilots being given a specific point to drop a beanbag with their entry number on it. For the Maumelle event, Wilson hopes to position the target on a boat on Lake Willastein.

In addition to the hot-air-balloon events, the weekend will include a “Monster Dash” 5K race and 2.1 mile walk around the lake on Saturday. The race will begin at 8 a.m., with the walk following at 9 a.m., and racers are encouraged to wear costumes. A $25 entry fee includes a T-shirt and a race number. Tickets and more information can be found at maumellemonsterdash.com.

Entry to the Halloween Boo-lloon Fest is free, but parking will cost $5. Trick-or-treating will take place during the Saturday-night balloon glow, Archer said, and children are welcome to wear costumes. A full schedule of events for the fest can be found at maumelleboo

lloonfest.com.

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

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