LEWISTON— Hot air balloons rose with the sun Saturday on the second day of the Great Falls Balloon Festival.

Simard-Payne Park was the hottest place to be as the day’s festivities were marked by the clear but warm weather and live entertainment kicked off by the festival parade marching from Auburn into Lewiston.

Gov. Janet Mills, center, poses for a selfie Saturday with Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline, left, and other campaign volunteers in Lewiston during the Great Falls Balloon Festival parade. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline and Gov. Janet Mills joined the parade along with Lewiston police and fire departments, winners of the Miss Maine USA competition, and members of the Kora Shrine Center. Spectators gazed from lawn chairs on sidewalks along Lincoln Street in Lewiston and Main Street in Auburn, catching candies and flags from the passing array of riders in colorful vehicles.

“I’m very happy for the people of Lewiston, Auburn and Central Maine. The turnout was fantastic. The weather, the people, I was happy to be a part of it,” said Mills. “(I felt) a great deal of enthusiasm and people feeling the freedom that these balloons represent, and it’s just a great feeling. I was very pleased with the reception along the parade route.”

A Kora Shrine “criminal” makes a dash when confronted with a lifesize police car Saturday in Lewiston during the Great Falls Ballon Festival parade. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The festival, which returned after a two-year hiatus, featured carnival rides and rows of vendors peddling food, jewelry and other souvenirs marking the occasion. Guests spilled into the sun-roasted space of the park following the parade along with several of the vehicles featured.

“It feels great to be back,” said Joel Jones of Seale, Alabama, a hot-air balloon pilot for A & A Balloon Rides, with 20 years experience. “It’s a great community, it’s a good area to fly, and (everyone) ought to try it. Everybody loves balloons.”


Hot air balloons lift off from Simard Payne Park in Lewiston during the Saturday morning launch. The popular three-day festival has been on hold for two years. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“There’s a magic to (hot air balloons). It’s a beautiful area to fly and the people love it, they come out in droves,” said Mark Fritze of Tallahassee, Florida, a pilot and seven-year veteran of the festival.

The number of attendees has reached high numbers indeed, with nearly 1,200 in attendance Friday, according to Nichole Parlin, vice president and craft and trade director of the Great Falls Balloon Festivals’ board of directors.

Country music and pop standards played loudly from speakers at center stage where a performance by the cheerleaders at Showtime Athletics was announced. The routine was performed to enthusiastic applause on green rolling mats near the park’s entrance.

A Kora Shrine clown greets paradegoers Saturday in Lewiston during the Great Falls Ballon Festival parade. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“For the amount of time that we had to put this together and the 50 new athletes that I’ve gained, and only (practicing) once a week, they did an amazing job. After not being able to come to the festival for two years, it’s packed; I love it. It brings the community together. A lot of people have never seen a balloon festival and they say there’s only a few around the country, and I can’t believe it’s right here in Lewiston, Maine,” said Naomah Russell, the owner and head cheer coach of Showtime Athletics.

“They are the most positive, hard-working people we’ve ever had in our gym. It’s important for people to come out and get to know us and what the sport is about. A lot of people don’t know about All-Star Cheer and what we do, ” added Desiree Jenkins, an assistant coach.

Parents and children swarmed the carnival area where rides twisted and whirled through the air like the smell of cotton candy and popcorn. The crowds flowed from one side of the Androscoggin River to the other in anticipation for the second balloon launch at 6 p.m. followed by a fireworks display at 9 p.m. The festival continues Sunday.

“After two years of being grounded, it feels really great to gather as a community in Simard-Payne Park and watch the balloons lift off into the sky. This community loves the Great Falls Balloon Festival. The balloons are colorful, larger than life, and no matter where you stand you have a great view. And the kids? The biggest smiles you’ve ever seen,” said Mayor Sheline.

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