Freedom Festival takes flight

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Hot air balloons will take to the skies in Provo at dawn’s early light this Fourth of July weekend.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Balloon Fest, part of the Freedom Festival activities surrounding Independence Day. It’s known for crowds as large as 25,000 people watching hot air balloons take off from Bulldog Field.

Balloon owners and crew members Peter and Diana Brown have been coming to the festival since it first began 30 years ago.

“I’ve been to a lot of rallies around the country, and this one is always a fun one. There’s always good crowds, and it’s got a lot of excitement here,” Peter Brown said.

The crowd, even at 7 a.m., is an estimated 7,000 for the first and typically least popular day of Balloon Fest.

“It’s the only reason to wake up this early,” Diana Brown said.

This year there are 25 balloons and pilots, the maximum number allowed on the field, expected to take flight around the valley.

Also during these flights are competitions for the pilots and crews. The Hound and Hare event starts the day off. The other popular event is the balloon jousting event, where each balloon pilot is equipped with a javelin-type stick and large 4-by-4-foot balloons are released into the air. The pilot to pop the most balloons wins.

Wayne Ross, an organizer of the event, said he knows it’s early for BYU students to wake up and come out to the event, but it’s worth it. He also mentioned that even though families with small children make up a large portion of the crowd, Balloon Fest is for everyone.

“Our target audience is anyone who likes ballooning,” Ross said. “It’s also a great photography event. Plus, we occasionally have BYU students who come down and help on crews and chase crews, which is a fun way to get involved.”

If you’re lucky enough to get a ride in one of the balloons, it’s a memory for a lifetime.

“I always say, the first ride is free and the next ride is $15,000 because you’ll want to buy a balloon,” Diana Brown said.

The event began Thursday morning and continues on Friday and Saturday starting at 6:30 a.m. at Bulldog Field.

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