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Callaway Gardens holds annual balloon festival

Callaway Gardens ended the summer with its 20th annual Hot Air Balloon Festival on Labor Day Weekend. The festival included tethered balloon rides for visitors during the morning and the evening.

Thousands of people attended from across the state and even from Florida and South Carolina.

Due to the high winds Saturday morning, many in line for the hot air balloon rides were turned away. Rides were also canceled Sunday morning and afternoon due to high winds, but there was plenty to keep families busy in meantime. The event also included a balloon glow on the garden’s beach Friday evening and a classic car show Saturday.

“We only do tether balloon rides, and that is weather dependent and dependent on the balloonists,” said Patricia Collins, director of the gardens. “The wind has picked up today (Saturday), so we’ll come back in the afternoon.”

Visitors could also enjoy a beach concert Sunday evening. Fayetteville resident Carlotta Ungaro said she and her family and friends were able to enjoy the trails and the blue morpho butterfly exhibit.

“That was fabulous and we walked around on the trails a bit and the breeze was nice and the spider lilies were beautiful,” Ungaro said. “I think it’s great. I think it’s good wholesome family fun with a little bit of culture thrown in.”

Stephanie Alberson said she and her family traveled from Loganville, and they ended up waiting in line for almost an hour before the tethered balloon rides were stopped due to high winds Saturday.

“It was pretty disappointing because we waited 45 minutes, but the weather you can’t control that,” Alberson said. “We understood and we’ll try again later.”

Hot air balloon pilot Steve Turner said the winds have to be calm for the balloons to fly safely. Turner has participated in the festival for 18 years.

“Sometimes we’ve had total rainouts, other times we’ve had beautiful days, but when you have these hot confected buildups in the summertime, it’s a crap shoot,” Turner said.

“Every weekend is different. We pray for no rain and calm winds and sometimes the prayers work and sometimes they don’t.”

Air balloon pilot Stuart Enloe said he has been piloting for 36 years, and flying is an exciting experience.

“[Saturday] night was a great crowd and we love showing it off to people,” Enloe said. “We love giving people rides for the first time, the second time. We love doing it.”

Collins said the balloon festival is the biggest single weekend of the year for Callaway Gardens.

“This is probably our biggest single weekend we will have all year,” Collins said. “Fantasy in Lights is great, but it’s spread out over six weeks or more, and the spring with the flowers, but for a concentrated event, this is it.”