Meet the Knowltons - Stephen, Kelly, Olive (7 ½), Georgia (5 ½) and Winifred (2 ½). “The halves are very important in our house,” laughed Stephen.
The Knowltons are proud Ashlanders and absolutely love summertime in their town with the concerts in the park and other community activities throughout the summer months. However, in the Knowlton household, summer isn’t fully summer until it’s time for the Ashland Balloonfest.
“There’s just something special about Balloonfest,” said Kelly. “It’s hard to put into words, but it just feels so quintessentially summer.”
Kelly grew up attending Balloonfest as a kid, traveling to Ashland each summer from neighboring Mansfield. Even as a kid Balloonfest was one of the main marks of summertime for Kelly, so when she married Stephen in 2007 and they started their own family there was never a question where they would be every year in late June/early July - at the Ashland Balloonfest.
“Kids are running around, everyone is enjoying good food and listening to music. It’s one of those occasions that makes you want to take a mental snapshot,” said Kelly. “I can remember so many moments with my kids sitting on my lap and seeing the reflection of the balloon glow on their faces. I have those same memories with my own parents.”
Stephen agreed right away. “Capping off a summer evening snuggling up with your kids watching the balloon glow is a truly special thing, especially if the sky is clear. It’s magical as everyone across the field ooh’s and ah’s, all the while singing along to the music. It’s definitely worth keeping the kids up for!”
Stephen and Kelly aren’t the only ones who look forward to Balloonfest each year. For the Knowlton’s middle child, Georgia, Ballonfest means doing cartwheels in the grass with her friends. While the Knowlton’s eldest, Olive, looks forward to the bouncy houses every year. And of course, seeing the different designs and colors of all of the hot air balloons is a highlight for both girls.
The Knowltons used to live near Brookside Park, and the girls would always rush outside hearing the whoosh of the balloons going up in the air. “It’s a surreal and magical site,” said Kelly, remembering those moments with her kids. “It’s pure and charming seeing so many hot air balloons floating over the town and the amazement on their faces.”
The Balloonfest is celebrating its 29th year in Ashland, and Kelly has been to most, if not all, of those. The Knowlton’s haven’t missed a Balloonfest as a family since Stephen and Kelly married in 2007. Even after so many years though, both Stephen and Kelly continue to be amazed by the event.
“The surprise that I enjoy each year is how long it takes to walk across the field,” said Stephen. “When you walk from one side of the crowded field to the other you see so many people you know, even if you only see them at balloonfest! We spend so much of the year being busy and doing things on our own, but when you’re at Balloonfest you share in community together, and that feels so meaningful.”
Kelly is always pleasantly surprised how the festival gets bigger and bigger each year, not only in attendance but also in activities. “The balloons are certainly still the centerpiece, but they’re not the only thing happening,” said Kelly. “Even when the weather doesn’t cooperate there is still so much to do throughout the day. I’m surprised that they keep finding new, fun and exciting things to add every year.”
According to Ashland Balloonfest President, Mindi White, continuing to add fun, family-friendly options to Balloonfest is always a top priority for the planning committee. Additions to this year’s festival include Princess Characters on both Thursday and Friday evenings from 6-9 pm as well as the OMG! (Ohio Mobile Gaming) trailer in the Kids Zone. Of course, there will continue to be the staples with live entertainment each evening and the evening balloon glow. You can find a full schedule of events here.
This year’s festival will feature 30 balloons, including a Pepé Le Pew balloon. White says many of this year’s balloons are coming from across Ohio with additional balloons from Connecticut, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois.
Kelly actually had the opportunity to take a balloon flight a few years ago and described it as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“It was incredible to experience Balloonfest from a completely different vantage point.” She continued, “it gave me a different insight and appreciation for the pilots and the crews and everything they do. There is so much preparation that goes into getting ready to fly - the different checks and tests and conferring that happens to determine if they go up or not to make sure they are flying safely for pilots and passengers alike. It’s a true commitment to their craft.”
On a practical level, as parents, Stephen and Kelly appreciate how everything is contained in one area. “You don’t have to drive around a lot. It’s all very accessible, and it’s free,” remarked Stephen. He continued, “Being a part of a welcoming community that’s all sharing a moment together, it’s something that’s just great for kids and families to experience.”
Kelly added that enthusiasm for Balloonfest is never in question around town. Everyone just says see you at Balloonfest! “What would you rather be doing than sitting in a field with 10,000 of your closest friends?” laughed Kelly. And Knowlton’s guesstimate is actually a little low. White said they’ve seen attendance between 20,000-22,000 for the full weekend the past 3 years.
Hearing this sentiment over and over means a lot to White. “Our goal is to provide a free, family and friends event where you can just sit back, relax and reconnect while enjoying the beautiful sites and sounds of the balloons.”
The Ashland Balloonfest is a labor of love for the 13 person planning committee who work year round to make the festival a reality each year.
“It’s a lot of work; more than most realize. And pulling it off with only 13 people is pretty cool!” White said, “our top priority is people connecting; bringing everyone back together. Seeing that happen every year makes all of the work well worth it.”
This year’s Ashland Balloonfest runs June 27-29th at Freer Field (SR 60/Center St & Morgan Ave in Ashland, Ohio). General admission is free. Parking is $6 at Freer Field and Ashland University Lot B on Samaritan Ave and Phillips Ave.
If this is your first year attending, the Knowlton's have some advice you should heed.
The Knowlton’s Balloonfest Pro Tips:
Bring comfortable seating to spread out on the lawn - chairs or blankets.
Make sure you have some cash to enjoy the wonderful food variety.
Be sure to wear functional, comfortable shoes.
Unfortunately nature is in control, which means sometimes the balloons don’t fly, but don’t let that stop you from coming. There are always fun things to do; you won’t be bored.
See you at Balloonfest!