TUNICA, Miss. (AP) — It’s hard to find more hot air in one place than will be in Tunica on Aug. 9-11. And that’s not an insult to Tunica promoters; they planned it that way.
Tunica’s second Balloon Bash is set for those dates, starting with a dusk “balloon glow” Friday evening (Aug. 9) at five sponsoring casino properties during which participants will fire up burners and illuminate their colorful balloons against the evening sky.
Activities will continue Saturday (Aug. 10) when more than 50 balloon pilots compete for $12,000 in cash and prizes during races above the Mississippi Delta landscape. Throughout the weekend, spectators can get balloon rides — where balloons are tethered to the ground and ascend 40 to 50 feet — at each participating casino site.
The event was introduced last year as a way to draw people to Tunica for something other than gambling, said Webster Franklin, president and CEO of the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“One of the roles of the CVB is to market the destination,” Franklin said. “After the flooding (in 2011), the market came together and tried to find different things that might bring traffic that wasn’t just gambling. The balloons just stood out. It’s something where each property can interact on their site but then come together as a group.”
Unfortunately for organizers, the 41 participating balloons never got off the ground last year because of bad weather, but they’re hoping a change to August dates will bring better flying weather.
Mark Bowie, who is in charge of the balloons in his role as balloon meister, said balloons can fly at a maximum wind speed of 10 miles an hour. The decision on whether to fly in competition, for tethered rides or for glows, will be made at the time of the event by Bowie.
Setting balloons up for flight is a formidable job. Bowie said fans pump cold air into the balloon as it lies on the ground, then the end of the balloon is sealed to trap the roughly 90,000 cubic feet of air. Burners then pump up to 30 million BTU’s of heat into the air-filled balloon, causing the air to rise and the balloon to stand.
For those wanting to rise early enough to catch the start of the Aug. 10 competition beginning at 7 a.m., they’ll see competing balloonists participate in challenges such as the “hare and hound” in which a lead balloon (the hare) drops a large fabric X and other competitors (the hounds) attempt to drop a marker as close as possible to the X.
Franklin is hoping the weather will cooperate so visitors will leave with lasting memories of dozens of colorful balloons floating across the morning sky.
“We got great reviews last year even though they didn’t go up,” he said. “This year, we’re hoping more visitors will get a chance to see the balloons up close, ride in a balloon and talk the pilots.”
Participating casino properties include Fitz Casino and Hotel Tunica, Gold Strike Casino Resort, Hollywood Casino Tunica, Horseshoe Hotel and Casino Tunica, and Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall Tunica.