By Jack King: CNJ staff writer
Alamogordo residents Terry and Mary Jo Drake began hot-air ballooning in 1991 and began offering balloon rides to students at the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped, in Alamogordo, in 1993.
But, they were never able to get one boy, who had some physical handicaps besides being visually impaired, up in their balloon.
“We contacted someone who has a handicapped-accessible balloon, but they wanted $7,000 to come here,” Terry said.
About a year later, the Drakes found a handicapped-accessible basket in Chicago and a balloon big enough to raise it in Connecticut. Shortly afterward, they formed Fly The Rainbow Inc., a private non-profit corporation that offers balloon rides to those with special access needs.
Their young friend in Alamogordo was their first rider, Mary Jo said.
The Drake’s, sponsored by Clovis’ Holiday Inn, will be here Saturday, along with the crews of more than 40 other balloons that have registered for the second annual Pioneer Balloon Jubilee, said Clovis-Curry County Chamber of Commerce marketing director Liz Isenbraun.
Among the other balloons participating in the event, will be “Smokey Bear” a giant-sized replica of the famous mascot’s head, sponsored by the Clovis Fire Department and the chamber of commerce, and “Let’s Quack,” a giant yellow duck’s head, sponsored by the Clovis Sangre de Cristo Girl Scouts.
For the second year in a row, the Bank of Clovis is the event’s corporate sponsor and 37 other local businesses have sponsored individual balloons, making it possible to bring them to Clovis, Isenbraun said.
“This year’s jubilee is going to be even bigger than it was last year. It’s an event for all ages and, with the Fly The Rainbow team, it’s going to be available for an even larger number of people. Also, it looks like the weather is going to be sweet,” she said.
Isenbraun said Fly the Rainbow’s balloon will remain tethered to the ground throughout its assents this weekend, to make it safe for the largest number of people, she added.
Balloon launches will be held at 6 a.m. Saturday and 6 a.m. Sunday. A balloon glow and a “firestorm” will be held 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Greene Acres Park. During the events, pilots will line up their balloons along the lake. Fires from the balloons’ burners light up the park and some balloons will inflate, Isenbraun said.
Clovis Fire Department personnel will be at the event with their fire safety house, a model that portrays the dangers of a burning room, she said.
Fujifilm is sponsoring a photo contest in connection with the balloon jubilee. Photos must be of this year’s morning launches and balloon glows. Entry forms may be picked up at the chamber office, 215 St. and at Wal-Mart’s photo department.
First-, second- and third-place winners in each of the contests categories will get Fuji cameras and gift baskets. Best of show will win $100.
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Let’s do launch
• What: Pioneer Balloon Jubilee
• When: Launches begin at 6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday
• Where: Site north of Plains Regional Medical Center