WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Get ready for a big weekend at the Downtown Wausau Airport with Wausau Events. It's the annual Balloon and Rib Fest. This is the 12th year of the Balloon Rally and the 7th year of the Rib Fest. The Balloon Rally is dependent on good weather, and Wausau Events Director Kari Rasmussen says they don't want to be at the mercy of the weather to have a good weekend. “Over the years, we’ve added different activities and decided to have a rib fest as well. I think it’s a great combination of events.” Rasmussen says there is a lot going on at the grounds. “We have live music Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Obviously, the huge fireworks show that we have on Saturday night. The Wisconsin Kite Club will be there on Saturday. We have pig racing, believe it or not, we have camel rides this year.”
It's not just balloons and ribs. Downtown Wausau gets into the act as well with the annual Chalkfest and Sidewalk Sales. Rasmussen says, “Chalkfest is celebrating its tenth year this year, and of course that turns downtown into just a beautiful, beautiful artwork. The river district sidewalk sales are going on, and we have a shuttle bus on Friday and Saturday that goes between downtown and the airport.”
One of the balloons arrived Thursday. Matthew McClinton and Tim Basey pilot the US Bank balloon. They had the balloon set up in the bank’s Wausau parking lot Thursday evening for a customer appreciation event.
McClinton says flying a balloon puts them wherever the wind blows, which needs to be under ten miles per hour. “We are completely at the mercy of the wind, so if the wind is doing eight miles an hour, we’re doing eight miles an hour. We only fly winds of ten miles an hour or less, and we steer by going (up or down). We can control our altitude very well. We change our altitude to change direction.”
The air in the balloons is heated by propane torches, which McClinton says is not all that different than the propane burners in your gas grill, but with more heat. “It’s a lot of heat up there. It’s about 200 degrees in the top of the balloon right now.”
Basey has been in balloons for 22 years, and says there is a reason the balloon baskets are made of wicker. “They will take a pretty good shock, and it will rebound, or if you break a little piece, you can replace it, no big deal. They’ve tried other things like fiberglass (but) in the cold in the wintertime, it will crack and break and aluminum welds just don’t hold, so they stuck with wicker.”
Balloons launch early Saturday morning from Wausau’s Downtown Airport, and then return Saturday evening for the balloon glow.
Rasmussen says they're expanding the events at the airport, and they've added a new rib team to help alleviate some of the shortages they had last year.
Chalkfest organizer Mort McBain has already completed the centerpiece this year, his annual depiction of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. You can head downtown to the CVA and sign up today as well. As of last night, there were nearly 300 participants signed up.
Find out more online including the schedule of weekend events at Wausau Events website.