Pop goes the balloon festival: Great Barrington Select Board denies event's application


GREAT BARRINGTON — It is the hot air balloon festival that will never launch.

And it could set an informal precedent about what kinds of events this town will tolerate.

The Select Board on Wednesday denied an application made by the organizer of a three-day balloon and entertainment festival, citing concerns about such a large event at the Walter J. Koladza Airport.

Board members and residents who live near the airport questioned many aspects of an eclectic "Berkshire Balloon Festival" that was proposed for the end of August, and estimated to draw 10,000 to 20,000 visitors who would be parking on the airport's grassy fields.

"I can't even believe that you would consider doing this," said airport abutter Lana Israel. "This is my backyard. This is a slippery slope."

It is also land sitting over an aquifer that is the town's drinking water source, noted airport neighbor Anne Fredericks in a letter read by a board member.

Fredericks said the event's title is misleading. "In fact this would be a mini Woodstock that happens to also have hot air balloons. Since balloons only take off at dawn and dusk, the primary activity would be loud music, selling food and booze with other entertainments in a residential neighborhood."

Organizer Veronica Parsloe of Connecticut-based VAP Events told the board that the airport would be closed to flights for the duration of the "family-friendly" festival, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. would host about 20 food trucks and between 40 to 50 craft vendors.

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There would also be live entertainment, wrestling, a car show, helicopter flights and alcohol served.

Under an August sun, drinking could prove unpleasant and unsafe, said newly elected board member Leigh Davis. Parsloe noted that there would be tents and medics.

But there were other questions that troubled Davis. Revenue would go to the event company and the airport. And Davis noted that local Rotary events are benefits for scholarship funds, for instance.

Parsloe continued to make her case for the festival, however, and said the company had looked at other venues like the Fairgrounds, but the terrain at those were unsafe for balloons.

She said visitors would be a boon to the local economy, and that it is safe to run balloons to and from the airport. They are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, and run by highly trained pilots.

Still, several abutters deflated these claims. In letters to the board they wrote that the area is too densely populated for hot-air balloons to run safely.

One board member said large festivals at the airport shouldn't fly.

"I just have an issue with the airport as an event venue," said Bill Cooke.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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