Ever wanted to get up close and personal to a 1,800-pound hot-air balloon?

The Tigard Festival of Balloons begins next Friday, and event officials are looking for volunteers who want to help set up and chase the balloons during the three-day festivities.

'It takes quite a few people to do this,' said Tigard balloonmeister Jim Smith. 'It's not an individual sport, for sure.'

On Saturday, June 16, head down to Cook Park for a special training on how to properly set up, inflate and catch a hot-air balloon.

Volunteers will be assigned to a balloon pilot for the festival, which runs from Friday, June 22, through Sunday, June 24.

It takes a crew of people to help set up and disassemble a hot-air balloon, and while many balloon pilots have crews that work on their specific balloons, Smith said there is always room for volunteers who want to lend a helping hand.

'We usually end up putting almost everybody to work who comes out to volunteer,' Smith said. 'We'll have a balloon at the training, and we'll teach them all about crewing, what to wear and what to do. 'We will teach them about the various parts of the balloon, what to look for, what to be careful of. The balloon is made of fabric, and it needs a little care in how we handle the balloon, ropes and lines.'

The annual volunteer training usually draws about 50 people, Smith said.

It takes dozens of volunteers to help set up and break down the 21 hot-air balloons expected to take off each morning during the festival, Smith said.

'It is quite a variety of people who come out to help. There is everything from individuals to whole families who volunteer.'

And volunteers often find themselves going up for balloon rides during the festival, Smith said. 'We can't promise anything, but we do encourage the pilots to take the crew up in the balloon with them whenever they can."

Many balloon chasers find the process addictive, however.

'There are some people where chasing balloons, that's their thing,' Smith said. 'That's what they want to do, and as pilots we greatly appreciate them.'

Want to help out? No sign up is necessary, just head to the training at Cook Park at 10 a.m., this Saturday. The training lasts until noon.

Cook Park is located at 17005 S.W. 92nd Ave., in Tigard.

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