For the Pittsfield Balloon Rally, deflating times continue

  • Rick Jones of Concord pilots a hot-air balloon Friday morning before the 2017 Suncook Valley Rotary Hot Air Balloon Rally on Friday. Caitlin Andrews

  • Hot Air Balloon pilots put on a glow show at the Hot Air Balloon Rally in Pittsfield in 2016. The event takes months to plan, and the challenges of putting on such a major event proved to be too big this year. Monitor file photos

  • Hot Air Balloon pilots but on a glow show at the Suncook Valley Rotary Club 35th Annual Hot Air Balloon Rally. August 5, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Mnitor Staff)

  • Hot air balloon “Wild Ride” purposefully dips into the Suncook River, sometimes called a “splash and dash” in Pittsfield in 2017.

  • Rick Jones of Concord pilots a hot-air balloon Friday morning before the 2017 Suncook Valley Rotary Hot Air Balloon Rally on Friday. Caitlin Andrews

  • The balloons start to rise at the annual Hot Air Balloon Rally in 2016. Monitor file

Monitor columnist
Published: 6/25/2021 10:10:47 PM

The mother and daughter saw this coming, sooner than anyone else in town.

Their careers in health and safety tipped them off, that COVID’s reach would go beyond 2020 and the cancellation of Pittsfield’s annual Hot Air Balloon Rally, a staple and identifying characteristic of the town.

Inside information, bubbling beneath the surface but yet to be released, told Fallon Reed and her mother, Mary Reed, that the air should be taken out of this year’s show as well. They needed a clearer picture, a comforting sense of normalcy on the horizon, by February, at the latest, to complete a task that has always taken eight months to complete.

Held each August at Drake Field, this summer’s Balloon Rally has been canceled for the second straight year.

“This was not an easy decision,” Fallon told me. “It was pretty emotional for everybody and we were upset because we love to do it. But we had to put other things first. With the state’s guidelines, we simply didn’t have enough time.”

In normal times, the Balloon Rally featured those colorful, picturesque, people-carrying balloons, 13 of them, that, weather permitting, sometimes included nifty maneuvering by skilled pilots who descended far enough to skim the Suncook River with their baskets.

Fallon is the co-chairperson, along with Laura Okrent, of the Rally’s Board of Directors, an ever-shrinking group of about a dozen members that once consisted of 40 to 50 people.

She also works for the Department of Safety, Homeland Security Management, overseeing what’s called the Preparedness, Mitigation and Recovery Section. She does emergency planning and disaster response and recovery. She’s been busy the past 1 ½ years, “working the COVID response since we noticed it was starting to do some things,” she said.

Meanwhile, her mother, Mary Reed, who manages concessions at the Balloon Rally, is the assistant vice president of public health for the Granite Way. She oversees three of the state’s 13 public health networks.

“She has been boots on the ground in the Capital Region since December of last year doing vaccine response,” explained Fallon.

Mary was unavailable for comment.

Mother and daughter belong to Rotary, the driving force behind fundraising and everything else that goes into what has become a core selling point, drawing tourists to the town of Pittsfield.

The Reed family moved there 20 years ago, when Fallon was in grade school. Soon after, while helping her parents clear land to build the family’s new home, Fallon saw a bunch of colorful objects floating gently through the sky.

“We had only been in town for a few weeks,” Fallon once told me, “and I got hooked.”

Laura Okrent, the board’s co-chair along with Fallon, remembered seeing Fallon at the Balloon Rally for the first time, when Okrent worked the gate and Fallon, in grade school, participated in a river raft regatta. That was 30 years ago. That’s a cycle of tradition

Now, Fallon and Okrent are trying to hold together an alliance of volunteers, needed to get the Rally off the ground since the inaugural version in 1982.

“Membership is dwindling,” Okrent said, “like in other volunteer organizations.”

Still, while in years past the balloon fleet has been grounded due to high winds and the board has been losing membership, that never stopped any of the other features during an annual party that offered free admission. There was food, helicopter and carnival rides, crafts, a dog demonstration, a corn-hole tournament and cow-chip Bingo.

Last year, for the first time, the whole event was canceled. Now, it’s happened again.

Okrent, like Fallon, had an intimate view of this year’s disappointment, as the Balloon Rally’s chances of returning after a year off grew slimmer and slimmer.

The introduction of vaccinations and declining numbers of infections and deaths from COVID came far too late.

As Okrent noted, “We had to start in January and COVID was unpredictable at that time. We could not call in vendors and then find out at the end of June that it might not work and then cancel .

“This has been terrible for the whole town.”

These days, COVID’s destructive path seems to be nearing its end, after more than a year of changing lives. In some cases, forever.

In this case, the pandemic’s effect lingered on, lowering a town’s morale for the second straight year.

That means, once again, that a volunteer youth group won’t be running the craft fair. The Pittsfield Historical Society won’t earn a dime from ticket sales. All vital fundraising efforts attached to the Balloon Rally won’t happen. Vendors, already hurt financially after last year’s cancellation, will get no relief this summer.

“People would come down, families would meet here,” Okrent said. “People in town would get reacquainted with balloonist because they’ve been coming for years. They like coming here.”

Perhaps August, 2022. The event started 40 years ago, and a birthday celebration was planned. Instead, organizers hope to celebrate year 40 next summer.

During the 38th edition of the Balloon Rally.

“We don’t want to delay a celebration any longer than we have to,” Fallon said. “And it will be bigger and better next year than ever. We’ll make up for what we missed.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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