By Craig Moorhead
The Caledonia Argus
For 28 years, the Caledonia Hot Air Balloon Rally has taken to local skies, and 2020 is set to continue that tradition.
“Caledonia will be celebrating its annual fall Hot Air Balloon Rally on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020,” balloon rally committee member Ann Gallup told the Argus. “Weather permitting, the balloons will be launching from the Caledonia High School practice football field at 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and another flight on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020 at 7:30 a.m. if needed.”
Those alternate dates and times are important, since conditions must be safe for launches and recoveries. But there’s another safety aspect that rally organizers have had to tackle this year – COVID-19.
Balloon rally committee member Marion Gavin said that the group “had a long discussion on if we should hold the Balloon Rally this year. After all the concerns were discussed, we decided we could give the community something ‘normal’ to look forward to and do it in a safe way.”
Committee member Mark Schiltz is a trained EMT serving with the Caledonia Ambulance Service. “The Caledonia Balloon Rally is following the Minnesota Department of Health and CDC guidelines,” he reports. “All participants will be screened the day of the event by trained medical personnel and will be asked to complete a questionnaire. Participants included are pilots, crew members, riders and members of the committee. All the participants must wear a face covering per CDC guidelines. This is an outdoor event and social distancing is encouraged by all spectators who are also required to wear (a) face covering. The screening station will have hand sanitizer available for the participants at the time of their screening. Face masks will be available for those in need of one.
“Spectators will need to practice social distancing guidelines from the equipment (balloons, baskets, etc.) and the participants. The pilots will have their equipment sanitized on the day of the event.”
Gavin said that she looks forward to seeing “The colorful balloons floating over Caledonia. Some personal highlights are providing ‘bucket list’ rides to people who have serious health conditions. Special occasions like watching Elsie and Lee drift away after saying their ‘I Do’s.’
“Another part of the balloon event is our fourth grade lyceum where we bring the fourth graders from all three elementary schools together to learn about balloons and their history, then in fifth grade they write an essay titled ‘Who Would I Take on a Hot Air Balloon Ride and Why.’ A committee reads and selects a winner that gets to go on a balloon ride with their guest. Some have been very touching stories! Of course, it is always fun to watch the faces of riders of all ages (those vary) from nervous to excitement!”
Gavin also noted that “Our balloonists are very experienced pilots. Everyone is invited to come and watch the process of inflation, loading and lifting off. Just seeing the size of the balloon and the bright colors is exciting. We want to give a special thanks to all the people who make this possible from the sponsors, pilots, committee, volunteers and the landowners who let us land on their property. It is definitely a true community event!”
Sponsors will receive the first rides, Gavin added, but “If the weather cooperates, we will have space for a few paid rides. If interested, call Chris Swain at 507-429-2420.”
Those of us who enjoy seeing the balloons soar over Caledonia should thank those sponsors. The balloon committee provided the following list of names to the Argus: New Albin Savings Bank, Winona Controls, SEMA Equipment, American Legion, Merchants Bank, Bank of the West, AcenTek, Joe Welch Equipment, Peterbilt, Herman Dental, Caledonia Haulers, Kathy’s Beauty Salon, Caledonia Care, Hokah Coop, Elsie’s Bar & Grill, Good Times Restaurant, Joe Hammell, Kevin Weichert, Smooth Toe/ Lifestyle Fitness, and F.A.I.T.H.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with new dates for the balloon rally.