Hot air balloon festival to bring 5,000 to NWA

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 4,588 views 

About 5,000 people are expected to attend a hot air balloon festival at Drake Field in Fayetteville this week, said Kelly Sampson, development director for Rogers-based nonprofit Open Avenues. SOAR NWA will take place from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 24 and is expected to raise about $150,000 for Open Avenues.

“The city is excited to have the opportunity for Fayetteville Drake Field to host such a unique event while supporting Open Avenues and their impact throughout Northwest Arkansas,” Mayor Lioneld Jordan said.

The 44-year-old organization provides jobs, life skills and work training, employment services and transportation for people who have been diagnosed with a disability, Sampson said. All proceeds from the festival will go to Open Avenues to provide employment opportunities for those they serve.

“We wanted to come up with a unique fundraiser idea that would help Open Avenues stand out and draw thousands of attendees,” Sampson said. “SOAR NWA was born from a series of conversations about coming up with an event our community wouldn’t want to miss. It’s all about bringing our community together for a fun day and ultimately helping support Open Avenues.”

The festival also should raise awareness of the organization. Including Arkansas residents, people have planned to attend from Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

Weather permitting, top sponsors can ride in the balloons, Sampson said. She expects the festival to have 10 hot air balloons and noted the only opportunity to see them in the air is near sunrise because of weather conditions. However, the public can purchase tethered balloon rides for $25 each or $15 for children under 15 years old. The rides should be available before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m., depending on the weather.

“The balloon glow scheduled for 8 p.m. is really the highlight of the event,” Sampson said. “It’s a pretty majestic sight to see them all lit up.” The festival also will have skydivers, helicopter rides, a children’s area, beer garden and food vendors. Admission is $10 or $5 for children under 11 years old, and tickets are available at www.soarnwa.com. The festival is expected to be hosted annually and is planned to become a three-day event, she said.

“This will be our first opportunity to host such an event,” Jordan said. “We look forward to being able to showcase our beautiful airport and all things aviation in one fun-packed day.” Also, admission to the Arkansas Air & Military Museum will be included for those who purchase tickets to SOAR NWA.

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