By Nancy Van Valkenburg
EDEN, UTAH – August 16, 2015 (Gephardt Daily) –
The Ogden Valley Balloon & Artist Festival always signals two things to Jenica Woolley.
First, that it’s time gather with her extended family to squeeze the last bit of fun out of the summer season. Second, that the rigors of school cannot be far behind.
“We’ve been coming here most of my life,” said Woolley, 20 and a student at Brigham Young University. “We’ve come with my grandparents most years since I was five or six. It’s unique to have a festival with so many hot air balloons. And someday, I am going to go up in one.”
But before “someday” will come Aug. 31 and the beginning of harder BYU course work in Woolley’s area of study: bioinformatics, the science of collecting and analyzing biological data, such as genetic codes.
“It’s computer science,” Woolley said. “It will be nice to get back into a routine, but I will miss the summer.”
Several thousand people attended the three-day festival, which ended at noon Aug. 16. Crowds gathered to listen to music from bands including Colt 46 and Red Shot Pony, and to sample fair fare including shaved ice, barbecue, funnel cakes and pizza.
But the balloons, enormous and stitched from colorful fabric, were the stars at dawn and dusk. About 15 hot air balloons arose for the festival’s Saturday morning launch, and four came back for the evening glow, when pilots shoot fire upward to make the balloons light up from within.
“I like the atmosphere here and the great memories,” said Megan Palmer, Woolley’s 18-year-old cousin and fellow BYU student.
“We always loved watching the balloons, and our favorite was a frog balloon I haven’t seen yet this year.“The festival is our end-of-summer tradition, our last hurrah. It’s kind of bittersweet, but we always take advantage of the season. You have to enjoy the present.”
The festival began in 1994 as a fundraiser for improvements to Eden City Park, where it was held. The annual event moved to Wolf Creek in 2004, but a lack of funds cancelled the festival in 2004 through 2013. Nordic Valley financed and hosted the festival in 2014, and the event moved back to Eden Park this year, funded with the remaining money from Nordic Valley’s donation.
Whether the festival will return after this year is unknown, but that didn’t stop revelers from making the most of the moment.
Children played together in the bounce house and other inflatable attractions. Families perused the 50 or so booths, offering food or wares made by area artists. Balloon enthusiasts enjoyed tethered rides provided by a local Re/Max office.
Aaron Valdez, 28, and stationed at Hill Air Force Base for the past six months, put his full focus on a Marie Callender-sponsored pie-eating contest he entered on a whim.
“I thought it would be fun,” said Valdez, unaware of a flake of crust stuck to his skin above his left eyebrow.
“I had no idea what to anticipate. I just threw my face in and started on the crust. I bit off pieces and swallowed them. Chewing would have taken too much time.”
Valdez, from Amarillo, Texas, judged his apple pie to be dense and delicious, he said. He planned to take wife Tia and her parents, visiting from South Dakota, to Marie Callender to use the gift certificates he won.
He’ll probably chew next time, he said.
Jackson Ainsworth, 14, attends WayPoint Academy, in Huntsville. Because the school runs all year, the Park City teen had no first day of school looming ahead.
“My school does volunteer work, and we helped with the balloon launch this morning,” Ainsworth said. “The balloons start in a basket, and they stretch out the balloon and use a fan to put air in, then a fire heats the air and the balloon starts to float.
“I didn’t expect the balloons to be so big. You can’t tell when you see them from far away.”
At first, Ainsworth was not thrilled about getting up well before dawn for volunteer work.
“I didn’t think it would be too exciting, but it was really fun,” he said, with a smile. “I helped with one or two, and I had no idea how exciting it would be. I’m so glad I got to do it. It was just so interesting, how they worked.”
With volunteer work scheduled well into the fall, Ainsworth is not dreading the end of summer.
“To me, it feels like the fun is just beginning.”