Some like it hot

The numbers tell the story: 58 hot air balloons expected this year, last year there were 38; seven special shape balloons, last year, three; and 100 arts and crafts vendors, doubling the size of last year’s show.

In only its second year in Ascension Parish, the Louisiana Hot Air Balloon Championship Festival is growing.

“We’re now BFA-certified. That’s the Balloon Foundation of America. So each pilot is competing for points to go to Nationals,” said Brad Walker, president of the Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council.

Walker said after this year’s festival, the Council will apply to host the 2015-2017 National Hot Air Balloon Championships.

Festival crowds are expected to grow, too, with 40,000 predicted to attend on each of the festival’s full days, Friday and Saturday.

The crowds can see hot air balloons take off or land during five competitions, have some fun in the adventure zone or children’s inflatables area, see special shape balloons, go on tethered balloon rides, and watch balloon glows and fireworks shows in the evenings.

In between, they can peruse an indoor arts and crafts show by Steinhauer Productions.

Food and drinks will be sold, including shrimp, chicken, ’gator and sausage on a stick, and funnel cakes with a choice of a dozen toppings.

First, though, there’s the matter of getting to the festival, as with attendance of 20,000 on Friday and 40,000 on Saturday last year, there were the inevitable traffic issues.

“Traffic was our major problem, so we put major effort behind it (this year), also,” Walker said.

The first tactic is dividing each day into morning and afternoon sessions.

Secondly, the festival is promoting alternate routes to Lamar Dixon, and third is doubling the amount of parking personnel, Walker said. Meanwhile, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office will provide extra signage, and deputies will direct traffic at key intersections.

A sheriff’s helicopter will circle above the area from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. to assess traffic.

If the weather is warm, Walker recommends light clothes, sunscreen and a blanket or lawn chair to relax in.

The field set-up has been modified so visitors can sit under the trees this year, he said.

Also being introduced is festival merchandise: collectors’ pins, hats, shirts and $5 decks of balloon trading cards featuring all the balloons participating in the festival.

These, as well as the programs, offer space for pilot autographs.

“It just builds the sport,” Walker said.