ROCKINGHAM — More than 8,000 visitors were drawn to the Richmond County Airport last weekend for the second annual N.C. Festival of Ballooning.
Organizers say more than half of those who attended the event, a partnership between the airport and Balloon Glow Tour held Sept. 16-18, were from outside the county.
According to a press release, some were even from other states, including South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Organizers said there was even a family from Romania who were vacationing in Charlotte that made the eastward drive to see the hot air balloons.
“There are many more local guests this year,” Richard Garvie, owner of Balloon Glow, said in a press release. “Every model we used to project attendance this year was met and exceeded!
“We love to come to Richmond County because it is such a friendly and welcoming place,” Garvie continued. “To see so many local families coming out, relaxing and enjoying the evening was great. Local attendance and enjoyment will continue to be our focus.”
One possible reason for the increase in local attendees was a deal worked out that allowed Richmond County residents a discounted ticket price. County employees and first responders also got into the event for free.
Jason Gainey, former airport manager, has been instrumental in bringing the balloons the county in 2021 and earlier this year for a quasi-political meet-and-greet. Gainey stepped down from his position to run for the Richmond County Board of Commissioners.
“We did a small deal at the airport back in April where Richmond County residents had an opportunity to come out and take a ride while meeting candidates for local political offices,” Gainey said in the press release. “Richard agreed then that we could reduce ticket prices for those with proof of residency to $10 per car load which makes the event accessible to all families in the county. Additionally, these events draw our municipalities together into one cohesive family — which is what everyone wants.”
County Manager Bryan Land said the county is “perfectly positioned” to host large events, such as the balloon festival.
“(We) would love to see an increase in events coming to our community that generate revenue for small businesses, hotels and local restaurants,” Land said in a relase. “Everyone, from all corners of our county benefit from these family-friendly events! My staff and I will continue to work diligently to bring these events to Richmond County.”
This year’s event had fewer balloons due to four pilots with Cartoon Balloons falling ill following an event in Reno, Nevada, according to the press release.
Despite that setback, Garvie seems enthused to return, saying county officials were east to work with.
“Richmond County is doing so much to grow and become a great place to live and visit and I am excited to see the progress every time I visit,” Garvie said. “See you next year.”