By Kevin Williams
Hot air balloons have been a long-time tradition in my hometown. Sometime in the mid-90s the Hot Air Balloon National Championships came to town at a time when we really needed a boost. I live in a small Ohio Rust Belt town that has been buffeted by the rise and fall of manufacturing. The town used to be home to dozens of paper mils, a steel mill, corporate headquarters of companies, all which made for a robust middle class and a vibrant city. But that all changed in the 1980s and 1990s as manufacturing fled and corporate jobs decamped for greener pastures. The city entered two decades of "Dark Ages" that it is now emerging from.
The city is gamely recovering and, wow, you can go downtown now and actually see the beginnings of a bustling urban core. A community college recently opened its doors downtown and some restaurants, an art center, and other businesses have followed. There are concerts downtown in the summer now and Aster and I enjoy going down there.
The city no longer hosts the championships (that venue rotates) but there is an annual hot air balloon festival that draws on the area's ballooning traditions and lures competitors from across the USA.
Attendance was close to 40,000 for the Saturday evening fireworks and balloon glow. Having a 2-year-old who is always looking for something fun to do, the balloon festival makes for a perfect evening. Here are some sights from the festival: