Big birds will be the air this weekend in Queensbury.
One will be red-faced mad. The other will wear the golden glow of happiness.
“Angry Bird” and “Yellow Bird” will make their first appearances at the 44th Annual Adirondack Balloon Festival, which begins tonight at 5 in Glens Falls’ Crandall Park. The party moves to Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury for launches on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Gates open at 4:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Admission is free all four days.
44th Annual Adirondack Balloon Festival
WHEN: Tonight through Sunday
WHERE: Crandall Park, Glens Falls; Bennett Memorial Airport, Queensbury
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: www.adirondackballoon
“It took us two years to get Angry Bird,” said Mark Donahue, the festival’s chairman of the board. “He’s coming from Europe and we’re one of his two [United States] events for the year. They brought it over for Albuquerque and we were able to have them ship it early. Quite a logistical challenge, seeing as the minute they leave here they have to be on the road to get to the Albuquerque event, which starts about a week after ours. We really lucked out on that one.”
“Yellow Bird” comes with “Puddy Cat,” and any resemblance to Warner Brothers’ cartoon characters Tweety Bird and Sylvester are purely intentional. Only the names are different — “Yellow Bird” is a stand-in for bulb-headed canary Tweety, who always thought he had seen a “Puddy Tat.” The black, red-nosed cat balloon looks hungry, but odds are he will not catch up to the “Yellow Bird” balloon any time this weekend.
Other special-shape balloons on this year’s flight plan include:
• “Smiley” the smiling scarecrow, who flies with a crow on his shoulder.
• “Pea-Nut” the giant gray elephant.
• “Lindy,” the sunglasses-wearing mascot of major balloon manufacturer Lindstrand Balloons of Galena, Illinois.
• “Star Tet,” for super tetrahedron, the stars-and-stripes balloon.
• “Baby Blue,” a giant whale.
While people love the special shapes, the bright-colored, round balloons that are not masquerading as birds, dinosaurs or space villains are really the festival’s great flyers. “That’s what the event is about,” Donahue said. “The shapes are nice and all, but you’ve got 90 balloons, not counting the shapes, and it’s just breathtaking because no balloon is the same, every balloon is designed different, it has a beauty of its own. When you mix them together, it just becomes a kaleidoscope in the sky. It’s amazing.”
The sights will remain the same. This year, the sounds will be a little different.
“There’s going to be a lot more music this year,” Donahue said. “We’ve added a lot more bands, playing longer spans of time. On Saturday, music starts at 2 p.m. and we’ll have bands playing all the way to 8 o’clock. So there’s a lot going on other than just balloons. That was one of our focuses this year, expanding other entertainment.”
Get early start
Donahue has always preached patience. Thousands of people are on dawn patrol for the big balloons, and that can mean traffic back-ups.
• Today’s opener at Crandall Park will put about 20 balloons in the air at 5:15 p.m.
• On Friday, 80 balloons will lift off at 5 p.m. at Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury.
• On Saturday at 6:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., about 100 balloons will rise at the airport.
• Also on Saturday, a “moonglow” event will begin at 8 p.m. at the airport.
• On Sunday, a mass ascension of 100 balloons will begin at 6:30 a.m.
• Also on Sunday, about 20 will soar at Crandall Park at 5 p.m. to close the festival.
All balloon events are weather permitting. Rain or high winds could cancel activity.
No pets are allowed. Neither are drones. And there is no smoking on the premises.
“On any given flight, we have 30,000 to 50,000 people and 150,000 for the weekend,” Donahue said. “So number one, pack your patience. Number two, it costs nothing to be here, the only thing it’s going to cost you is your time. We can’t emphasize that enough to people. So make a day of it. If you come in the afternoon, leave Albany at 1 or 2 o’clock, bring a picnic, hang out, vege at the airport and laugh as you see all the traffic coming in behind you.”
Early is the key for mornings, too. Leaving the Capital Region at 2 or 2:30 a.m. is not such a bad idea.
“The gates open at 4:30 in the morning and there’s a line at 4:30 in the morning to get in,” Donahue said. “If you’re coming from the Capital Region do not leave home at 5:30 and think you’re going to see something because you’re not. There have been years the traffic is backed up on the Northway to get into this event and we’re five miles from the Northway.”
From the Capital Region and Saratoga Springs, the best way north is the way most people go — starting on the Adirondack Northway. Drivers leave the highway at Exit 19 (Aviation Mall exit) and make a right turn onto Route 254, also known as Aviation Road until Route 9. Crossing Route 9, Aviation becomes Quaker Road.
People will then drive about two miles east to Ridge Road (Route 9L), then make a left turn onto Ridge. From there, it’s about another two miles before a right turn onto Hicks Road and from there into the airport and free public parking.
Another option would be driving farther north on the Northway, to Exit 20. People can then take Route 149 north and then east, turn south onto Ridge Road, then look for Hicks Road and the airport.
Local law enforcement officials say there are no secret, traffic-free paths to the balloon festival. People exiting at Exit 19 at 6 a.m. are going to run into delays.
VIP parking passes for $15 get people into the festival quicker, via Queensbury Avenue, but these passes are now only available in advance at these locations:
Warren County Department of Public Works Office, 4028 Main St., Warrensburg; Warren County Treasurer’s Office, 1340 State Route 9, Lake George; Queensbury Town Clerk’s Office, 742 Bay Road; and the Glens Falls City Clerk’s Office, 42 Ridge St., Glens Falls.
Private property owners on Queensbury Avenue have allowed parking on their land in the past for a fee.
For people who do not want to lose sleep or risk time in traffic, balloons will be visible in Washington County. Folks will miss the launches, but will be able to follow balloons as they float into Washington.
“If we have good weather and you live within a 10-mile radius, and you don’t see a balloon, at least in the distance, something’s wrong,” Donahue said.
Good spots in Washington are Dean Road and out Route 4 in Kingsbury.
Still, early is the smart call. People who lose a little sleep will win a grand experience.
“There’s nothing like a morning flight when you see these nylon balloons come out of bags and they literally just come to life,” Donahue said. “What a magical way to start a day, seeing these things. It’s pretty cool.”