By Nicole Matheson

It takes a crew to fly a hot air balloon. For every balloon and pilot in the air this weekend, there is a dedicated crew working on the ground to assist in making it happen. These local volunteers step up to the challenge and are an integral piece of the Lake Havasu Balloon Festival and Fair experience.

Jeanne Weidner, a Lake Havasu City resident, was inspired to volunteer the first year the balloons made an appearance in Havasu 10 years ago. She recalled taking her grandson to the festival that first year and the welcoming kindness the pilots showed to him. After being hooked by the atmosphere she volunteered.

Balloon crew and volunteers jump in to assist in packing up a balloon after it landed in a neighborhood. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

A Hands-On Experience

Weidner said of her experience as a member of a support crew, “It’s very hands on.” Crews help assemble the balloons for the pilots and then chase the balloon to the landing site where they break everything down again. “I helped catch one this morning.”

Sometimes the landings are quite remarkable, she said, in particular, the splash and dash, where the balloon baskets touch down on the water by the London Bridge.

Learning New Things

Kathy Gilbert, another support crew volunteer and Havasu resident, offered her insight. She said that although there is training for the crew, “Every ballooner does something different, so you learn new things that help you with every different balloon pilot you are with.”

Kathy Gilbert, Ronny Rector and pilot Dave Reineke inflate a hot air balloon. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Gilbert was captivated by the experience of the Balloon Festival the first year, and was inspired to volunteer. She said the event may seem short-lived to those who love it, and added bittersweetly, “It happens so quickly in the winter and then it’s done.”

Like Floating On Air

Being a volunteer has it’s benefits as well. Both had the opportunity to go up in a balloon, despite being afraid of heights, but agree that it’s just like floating on air. The experience keeps volunteers coming back year after year as the event grows.

“It’s really fun. This is my favorite weekend,” Weidner said.

C.E.R.T. volunteers and Jeff Kemp of the Lake Havasu Fire Department are on hand at the Havasu Balloon Festival to help keep balloon pilots, crew, volunteers, and attendees safe during the event. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

A Community Volunteer Effort

More than 1,300 volunteers – in addition to those assisting balloonists – help make the festival a success every year.

Fairgoers may have encountered some volunteers known as “Zeebras.” Those in the striped shirts make sure everything that happens on the balloon field runs smoothly. They direct folks to the mass assentions and to the night glows.

Volunteers work on the crown line at the Havasu Balloon Festival. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Local service clubs are represented in the volunteer cadre. All Lake Havasu Rotary and Lions clubs volunteer in the beer garden and in the VIP tent, serving balloonists breakfast and dinner.

There are so many moving parts that would not be moving without volunteers. Everything from parking to trash pickup to entertainment to balloon operations to name a few.

And an important part beginning each day is the contribution of the Lake Havasu City Marine Corps League performing the flag-raising ceremony.

At the end of each balloon festival, it is the teamwork and coordination of volunteers that ensure the event is successful.

The Marine Corps League Color Guard leads the crowd in a flag raising ceremony with balloon pilot Bill Lee at the Havasu Balloon Festival. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Volunteers work the admissions gate at the Havasu Balloon Festival. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Volunteers serve dinner in the VIP tent at the Havasu Balloon Festival. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Sven Setterdahl holds the crown line for pilot Betsy Kleiss. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Balloons fly over the London Bridge Sunday morning durin the Balloon Fest. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene


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