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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.