QUEENSBURY Although many of the flights scheduled Thursday and Friday in the Adirondack Balloon Festival were grounded due to prevailing breezes, spirits of spectators soared regardless.
The acclaimed festival continues through the weekend with launches early morning and late afternoon Saturday through Sunday a.m. at the Warren County airport, and Sunday evening in Crandall Park, Glens Falls.
At the opening ceremonies Thursday afternoon of the 40th annual edition of the festival, smiling spectators greeted friends and chatted with balloonists and shared memories of earlier festivals. Balloonists and festival organizers said it was one of the largest crowds ever for the fest in its history.
A large crowd surrounding a giant birthday-cake balloon -- no less than 80 feet tall -- cheered when the craft was inflated.
Among those hailing the balloon liftoffs were Doug and Yvette Mahan of Lindenhurst NY, on a weekend getaway from Long Island with their children Casey, 17 and Duncan, 9.
"We've been to many balloon festivals -- where you're separated from the balloons by a fence," Doug Mahan said. "Here, you can talk with the pilots and help out on their crew -- you can mix with the pilots up close and personal."
Scott Wetzel was among a half-dozen local volunteers selling clothing, posters, mugs and other merchandise commemorating the festival's 40th anniversary.
"This is by far the biggest crowd I've seen for years on the festival's opening night -- and the enthusiasm is incredible," Wetzel said. He's the soon-to-be brother-in-law of festival president, Mark Donahue.
Wetzel said festival volunteers were answering questions -- primarily giving directions to first-time attendees -- over the festival's hotline, which was ringing non-stop, and through the event's Facebook page.
"This year, there's tons of bus tours headed here," he added.
Nearby, Joan Grishkot of Glens Falls sat in a folding chair, greeting pilots, volunteers and spectators. Her late husband Walt Grishkot founded the festival with her support. She gazed at the giant birthday-cake balloon, declaring the festival's 40th anniversary.