The Tigard Festival of Balloons returns to Cook Park next weekend with a host of new sponsors and family events.

As usual, the skies above Tigard and Tualatin will be decorated with hot-air balloons each morning during the three-day festival. Balloons take off every morning early, between 5:45 to 6:15 a.m. But new to the festival this year will be tethered rides for families, a chance to meet members of the Portland Timbers, and more.

The Times will have a special section devoted to the 28th annual festival next week, but in the meantime there are a few things to look forward to before the balloons start flying.

New sponsor brings free kids zone

Along with the carnival rides, beer garden, car show and soccer tournament comes a new presenting sponsor, GameTime dining.

The sports bar-turned arcade in Tualatin opened earlier this year as a family-style restaurant complete with a bowling alley, ice cream bar, Apple iPads at the tables and arcade for the kids.

The presenting sponsor of this year's festival, GameTime is hosting a free children's area on Friday and Saturday between noon and 4 p.m.

'It incorporates more of that community feel,' said Cindy Padilla, the festival's executive director. 'We are partnering with Home Depot to bring their build-it workshop down (to the festival).'

Called the GameTime Fun Zone, kids will be able to make special masks to wear during the festival to celebrate one of the festival's more interesting balloons, which is shaped like the face of a giant panda.

"They'll make ears out of papier mache and cover their masks with fur," Padilla said.

The Fun Zone also includes art projects, performances by Radio Disney, a coloring contest, a cupcake walk on Saturday, and a special appearance by members of the Portland Timbers from noon to 3 p.m. on Friday.

Rib eating contest

Also new this year is the inaugural Famous Dave's BBQ rib eating contest on Saturday.

Adults will chow down on ribs. Children will also get to join in the action during two special corn-on-the-cob eating contests for ages 8 to 12 and 7 and younger.

Between now and Monday, June 18, contestants can apply at any of the three Famous Dave's locations in Tualatin, Cedar Hills and Portland. Three adults and three children will be selected from each of the three restaurants to participate in the contest.

Participants will also be selected from the Festival's Facebook page and at the festival on Saturday.

The contests begin at 4 p.m.

Free tethered rides offered all weekend

The final new attraction at the festival are free tethered balloon rides for families all weekend.

After the balloons launch in the morning, the festival will erect three special tethered hot-air balloons which can take people on short flights up above the field.

Anyone 6 or older is welcome to go for a ride, Padilla said, as long as they are tall enough to see over the sides of the balloon's basket.

The tethered rides will be taking flight throughout the festival, Padilla said, weather permitting.

Otherwise, it's business as usual at the festival, which runs from Friday, Saturday and Sunday with parking provided at the Tigard High School field at the Tigard Swim Center for $5 (parking proceeds go to the THS Breakfast Rotary and THS Boosters).

Not wanting to walk down to the park? The high school volleyball program is providing a shuttle bus that can run you from the parking lot to the festival for $1.

Musical entertainment on the main stage will include rock violinist Aaron Meyer on Friday and Johnny Limbo and the Lugnuts on Saturday.

For all the details about the festival, pick up next week's edition of The Times or visit the festival's website, .

Advance tickets to the festival are available online.

For $2 off single-admission tickets visit GameTime in Tualatin, 17880 S.W. McEwan Road off Southwest Boones Ferry Road.

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