GERING — The community walked down 10th Street in Gering Saturday evening as national balloon pilots showed off their baskets at the reverse parade.
The parade was the kickoff event ahead of the week’s nationals. Scotts Bluff County Board Chairman Ken Meyer read the official proclamation.
“Whereas an Old West Balloon Fest event has a long-standing place in history in the memories of residents in Scotts Bluff County, who reminisce of the day when hot air balloons took flight over the western Nebraska skies. Whereas the community visionaries and committees, volunteers and sponsors had the vision to resurrect the balloon event for August 2019 in celebration of the world’s oldest aviation sport ... we do hereby proclaim Aug. 10-17, 2019, as Old West Balloon Fest and U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championships week in Scotts Bluff County and encourage our residents and visitors to participate in a week to remember.”
While the national competition does not begin until Monday, several pilots flew over Scotts Bluff County Saturday morning in preparation. Richard Sabin of Henderson, Texas, said they soared over northeast Scottsbluff and threw baggies at six targets throughout the county for a good morning of practice. He brought his blue and white balloon, Sea Breeze.
“I’m looking forward to this week,” Sabin said. “The area is wide open. The area doesn’t have a lot of trees and power lines around, so that makes it a lot nicer.”
Although Sabin has piloted balloons for 19 years, he said the winds make it challenging to get to the targets. Saturday’s practice required him to stay low until the first target before increasing altitude toward the next target.
“The only thing you can control in a hot air balloon is up and down,” he said. “At different altitudes, the wind goes in different directions.”
Katie Cloyd is the crew chief for her husband Patrick, who is flying Molon Labe, a red, white and blue balloon. They are from Wichita, Kansas.
“This is our first time at nationals, so we’re very eager to get started,” Cloyd said. “One of the hardest parts is going to be the loggers that we’re not used to, so that’s technology we’ve not had much experience with. But, we came last year, so we know what to expect.”
Throughout the parade, pilots handed out cards featuring pictures of their balloons. Some pilots even allowed youth to get into their baskets.
Carson, Allie and Riley Windhorst of Scottsbluff were able to get inside Allen Anderson’s balloon basket and peeked out of the kiddie window or the step to get in and out of the basket.
“It was good,” Carson said. “The kid’s window was cool because you can look out of it.”
National pilots will start competition Monday morning as they approach targets around the county to earn the most points.