Record-breaking crowd attends Poteau Balloon Fest

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 206 views 

Beautiful weather and bright balloons made for the perfect weekend as Poteau hosted its tenth annual "Balloon Fest" on Friday and Saturday (Oct. 17-18). Thousands of visitors from throughout Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the surrounding region made their way out to enjoy what has become one of the country's most popular hot-air balloon showcases.

Festival gates opened at noon on Friday (Oct. 17) at the LeFlore County Fairgrounds. Upon arrival, visitors were greeted by the sights and sounds of carnival rides, overflying helicopters, and more than a dozen brightly-colored hot-air balloon stationed throughout the grounds. Rides for both the helicopter and balloons were offered throughout the festival, at an additional cost to the gate admission.

At dusk on both days, crowds also gathered to watch the balloons light up during the unison "glow." Wranglers lit the fire on their individual balloons, which glowed brilliantly against the sunset sky.

In addition to the balloon and carnival rides, the festival also featured a number of special events and performances, including a BMX Bike show, a 5K Walk/Run, and a Little Miss & Mr. BalloonFest competition. Many guests visited the exotic animal and alpaca petting zoos, while some took a ride on the "Mean Machine" Monster Truck. Guests could also browse the many booths located in the vendor area which offered everything from food and drink, to face painting and arts and crafts.

One of the most popular entertainment attractions at the festival was "Rumble on the River," a mud truck race that also included a junior power wheels contest and belly flop competition. Saturday's festivities concluded with the "Ride for the ATV Tour" Bull Riding Finale which served as the finale of a five-series event with 30 bull riders competing, and the top ten coming back for a short round.

Admission to the festival was $5 at the gate or only $3 for armbands purchased in advance. The event is hosted annually by the Poteau Chamber of Commerce. The 2013 Balloon Fest drew a crowd of 25,000 and organizers fully expected this year's event to break that number.

"We anticipate a crowd of around 30,000 this year,” said Patti Curry, office manager of the Poteau Chamber of Commerce. "We had a huge crowd last year, even with light rain. This year's weather is beautiful so we are expecting a record-breaking total."

Great weather wasn't the only thing working in the festival's favor this year. The event received significant publicity after it received the prestigious Red Bud Award as the 2013 Outstanding Event Winner by the Oklahoma Governors Conference on Tourism. In 2014, BalloonFest was also ranked number three on the "Top 40 Things to do in Oklahoma" list by "OkieCentric Magazine."

"Such recognition has really helped get the word out there about the festival," explained Curry. "It has grown tremendously over the years and we really excited about what it has become."