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46th annual Walla Walla Balloon Stampede sails back to May

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About a dozen balloons inflated in Howard-Tietan Park for short tethered rides last October at the Walla Walla Balloon Stampede.

Locals can add the Walla Walla Balloon Stampede back on their calendars for Mother’s Day weekend.

Operators of the hot air balloon festival made the move from October to May official with an announcement Saturday.

The 46th annual event that draws hot air balloonists from all over the country will run May 6-10. Lighter Than Air America will continue to organize the event. The company had been operated by the late Scott Spencer, who died Jan. 31 at 65 after a battle with colon cancer.

His wife Laurie Spencer, a commercial pilot and the company’s vice president, will lead event organization for 2020. Walla Walla balloonist Jerry Cummins, longtime balloonmeister, will also assist.

The date is the only change, said Scott Peters, CEO of title sponsor Columbia Rural Electric Association.

The event will continue with a projected 30 to 35 balloons at Howard-Tietan Park. Peters said Nite Glow is expected to return as a Saturday night event, rather than Friday, when it had taken place the last several years.

Re-scheduling Nite Glow, the after dusk presentation of tethered baskets lighting the night sky with inflated balloons from the ground, is possible with the return to May, Peters said. In the October time frame the traditional Saturday date conflicted with at least one other major community event.

The event has taken place in the fall for the last several years, starting with a trial run in 2014 with a smaller number of balloons. In 2015 the switch to October was made permanent.

That year—a test period—was a success, Peters said. But since then only 2018 had favorable weather conditions and allowed balloons consistently off the ground for the morning launches.

“The math is the easy part,” Peters said Saturday. “We had the test year and one other good October.

“And it sure seems like the odds are better to me” for a spring event.

Peters acknowledged there are better weather months for hot air balloons than May or October. But those months typically have crops growing in fields where the pilots often land, making it impossible to navigate.

“You can’t land the balloons,” he said.

While numerous other details are in planning stages, the date change was important to release in order for community members and visitors to plan.

“We want balloons up in the sky for the community and for the kids,” Peters said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.