116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
UPDATE, June 22 @ 9:50 a.m.: Ballon Glow 2021 is sold out, organizers announced Tuesday morning, the day of the event. People with Freedom Festival buttons will not be allowed entry, organizers said.
The night skies at Hawkeye Downs will be lit with incandescent hot air balloons as Balloon Glow makes its return to the Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival — but it won’t just be balloons in the air this year.
Dozens of huge kites, some of them more than 60 feet long, also will be featured at the event.
Great American Kites, based in Polo, Mo., has a couple hundred large kites in all kinds of eye-catching designs: aquatic animals, horses, astronauts, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and even an Iron Man balloon. Owner Sean Beaver compared the size and scope of the kites to the kind of balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Beaver has been passionate about flying kites since he was a kid, and has never stopped.
He said that over the last 10 years, he and his wife, Stephanie Beaver, have grown from kite hobbyists to a business putting on whimsical kite displays in seven states.
What: Balloon Glow and Great American Kites
Where: Hawkeye Downs, 4400 Sixth St. SW, Cedar Rapids
When: 6 to 10 p.m. June 22
Features: Tethered hot-air balloons, giant kites, concert by Alisabeth Von Presley
Tickets: $20 for pods holding up to six people; pre-purchased at bit.ly/2RzL4O7
Extras: Gates open at 6 p.m.; soft-sided coolers with outside food and beverages are allowed, but do not bring alcohol; alcohol, food and beverages are available for purchase; no smoking, pets, fireworks, sparklers
“We’re literally in the amazing memory business for families and communities — not just for kids — really for the young and the young at heart,” he said.
Stephanie’s favorite is a giant unicorn-shaped kite.
“I hope to put glitter-hooves on it and make it even more sparkly,” she said. “It’s just my favorite one because it’s fun and there’s so many kids that love it, and the excitement when people see a unicorn, whether it’s adults or kids, and I myself still get it.”
The huge kites, which can range from 30 to almost 200 feet long, are set up by a crew of three to four people, and are anchored to the ground. Weather conditions determine which kites can be flown each day.
“Some of these kites will pull 1,600 to 3,000 plus pounds of force, so we’ve got a lot going on in the field to make sure that they’re anchored properly and safely,” Sean said.
While hauling the kites cross-country involves a lot of travel and long days, Sean said his mission of bringing families and communities together keeps him going.
“It is a lot of hard work. It’s a tough way to do things, but the reward is truly in the people that come out,” he said. “One of my favorite photos to get is always the people who keep looking up. No matter the challenges you go through, there’s always something to keep your chin up. It’s kind of a metaphor through kites.”
New location, same balloons
Balloon Glow, which has previously been held at the Brucemore estate and the Sinclair Levee, is moving to Hawkeye Downs to allow for more space between onlookers. Capacity also will be limited, to accommodate social distancing, said Freedom Festival Executive Director Karol Shepherd.
Tickets, which can be purchased in advance, are $20, and can cover groups up to six people. A Freedom Festival button is not required for entry.
In a news release, Shepherd said sponsors have been understanding of the modification to this year’s balloon glow.
“At the time, we were planning (what) would be a big open space where people could really socially distance if that’s what we’re still doing,” Shepherd said. “So we landed on Hawkeye Downs. We’re really excited to have that event there this year.”
Shepherd said the event still is in need of volunteers to help put on the signature summer event, especially those willing to work the entrance to the event and to assist with traffic flow.
Volunteers will receive a free T-shirt and $25 toward a nonprofit organization of their choice.
Balloon pilot Susan Stamats of Cedar Rapids has been with Balloon Glow since its inception, before the event was a part of the Freedom Festival.
The idea for the now-classic event started when a friend of Stamats and her husband tethered and glowed her hot air balloon around the Fourth of July.
The idea soon grew, and Stamats and others came together and showed off their glowing balloons on the grounds of Brucemore mansion.
“In the beginning, we had people that came with their kids in wagons and they brought blankets and coolers and things like that,” Stamats said. “I think the first year we had 200 people, and before Freedom Fest took it over, we had 1,000 people, and we had eight or nine balloons there.”
This year, 10 glowing balloons will be tethered on the track at Hawkeye Downs.
Stamats is bringing two 77,000 cubic foot balloons to the glow this year, including one making its Balloon Glow debut. The eclectic balloon features a golden retriever, a cat and the moon and the stars.
Stamats said she is excited for the event to return. She appreciates the close interaction festivalgoers can have with the massive balloons when the wind conditions allow.
“It’s really great to have the kids come up. They’re always inquisitive,” she said. “If we didn’t have people there, it would be really boring, because a balloon doesn’t just want to sit there. It wants to fly.”
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