Balloonists take off next week
Collage of Culture
More than a dozen hot air balloonists are expected to descend on Madras next week for the 15th Annual Collage of Culture, May 16 and 17, at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
In order for the event to come off without a hitch, landowners are reminded that they are an essential element in all hot air balloon operations.
The Collage of Culture, presented by Yarrow, will feature 13 balloons painting local skies, with special school programs and VIP flights throughout the preceding week.
Each pilot is provided landowner appreciation certificates with a tear-off coupon that will be used in a drawing to send a lucky local landowner on a special date for two.
Last year, Karen McCarthy received a weekend for four in a House boat at Lake Billy Chinook, according to John Leisek, who has served as balloon meister for the past few years. This year, Russ Reichert, of Grants Pass, will succeed Leisek as balloon meister.
"Ballooning is a social activity which includes many people from our community," said Leisek. "These pilots view their sport as an art to be shared with all, as they paint the sky with their custom designed balloons."
The Collage committee has spent hundreds of hours coordinating pilots, sponsors, balloon crews, and logistical support to bring a million dollar art gallery into the sky, he noted. "None of this could happen without the hospitality of the landowners."
Balloons cannot be steered against the wind, he pointed out. Pilots are experienced to feel the subtle differences in air movement at different altitudes and then try to use the ever changing currents to navigate their balloons.
"It's often said that if you're concerned about where you are going and when you'll get there, don't take a balloon," Leisek said. "That makes almost every flight a trespassing situation where the pilot will not know where they will land until they get there."
A balloon crew will try to stay at arms length ahead of the balloon with a recovery vehicle and communicate with the pilot by radio.
About 20 minutes before the anticipated end of a flight, the pilot will start to identify potential landing sites and the balloon crew will try to evaluate its feasibility.
"They are the pilot's eyes on the ground," he said. "Power lines, irrigation, type of crop, livestock, fences, gates, road access, and hospitality are a few concerns the crew will try to identify."
Part of the initial evaluation is to try and contact the landowner with very little time before the balloon arrives. "They're knocking on doors before breakfast and possibly while you're still in jammies," he said. "It's a bit awkward, but we are trying to respect the fact that we are about to trespass on private land and would much rather have you come out and participate than to be angry at us."
If the crew responds with a positive report, the pilot will come in low, do a final evaluation and land, he noted.
Pilots are trained to minimize impact on private property. "Our crews are often assembled by the event organizers and are your neighbors," Leisek said. "The pilots have radio communication and are very conscientious about respecting your property."
"They also realize that spectators are following the balloon and are only there because of the excitement that has been generated through the magic of ballooning," he said, "which happens to be why we have been invited to participate in the Collage of Culture."
Crews try to keep their vehicles on established roads, and pilots identify fields to land in where they will not damage the crop and will protect their balloons.
Most balloon flights occur at sunrise because of the calmer winds, Leisek said. "Often this is just prior to feeding time and livestock may have a tendency to become a bit nervous. If a pasture area is feasible, the animals don't seem to get as nervous."
"Early feeding and or your presence can also help to calm corralled livestock," he said. "The pilots have different burning techniques they will use if they see that livestock are becoming anxious to help settle them down."
"If the balloons are drifting your direction," he added, "please greet them and identify yourself to the crew. Help them identify appropriate landing areas and areas they should avoid."
If conditions are right, the pilot might even give tethered rides to the family, he said. "Remember that this is a social event and you are a critical element in the event."