A cold front moved through the St. Louis area all day Friday with rain drenching Central Field and the surrounding grassy area in Forest Park. The storm left organizers of the Great Forest Park Balloon Glow scrambling to prepare the grounds for one of the biggest events of the year.
Park staff quickly spread mulch and straw to soak up the puddles and cover muddy areas, as families and friends began arriving early Friday evening. Kids squealed with delight as they found a few puddles to jump in while waiting in line to play in the inflatables set up at the north end of the field.
“Bunny, bunny, bunny” they shouted as the enormous 60-foot-high pink ears of the Energizer Hot “Hare” Bunny began to take shape for the glow.
Every available dry space around the field was filled with tables, chairs, plastic and blankets as families settled in to watch crew members unfold yards of material, upright flight baskets and begin adjusting burners to inflate nearly seventy colorful balloons spaced out across the soggy field.
Guests arrived at the private Great Forest Park Balloon Race Glow in the Park Dinner benefiting the Humane Society of Missouri, to enjoy cocktails, dinner and dancing under beautifully decorated white tents set up on the east side of the field near the Energizer Bunny.
Shana Cook, coordinator for the Park Dinner, beamed with enthusiasm as she described how the event has become a signature fundraiser for the Humane Society.
“Parking can really be a problem at the Balloon Glow with thousands of people attending one of the most unique events in the United States,” stated Cook, smiling at children waving glow lights.
With private access to Forest Park, valet parking and front row seats, she reported that VIP tickets sold out quickly with over 800 guests expected to attend. Cook said that four year ago, Balloon Glow organizers invited their organization to be the charitable recipient of the Balloon Glow dinner.
“Standing amongst the balloons when they are inflated and they all do a ‘burn’ is special, but being able to raise funds to benefit the Humane Society of Missouri Animal Cruelty Fund is even more special,” she commented over music filling the cool night air.
Cook acknowledged that when it began raining hard earlier in the day, they were not sure when they would be able to set up under the tents. “We brought in lots and lots of mulch,” she laughed. “We’re excited it’s going to be a beautiful night.”
Shortly after 7:00 p.m., the air horns blared across the field. A loud cheer arose from the huge crowd as pilots fired their burners in unison to light their balloons.
For the next two hours, each time the air horns blew, flames would shoot into the huge hot air balloons creating a mesmerizing glow against the dark sky. Each time, spectators quickly tried to capture the action using their digital cameras and cell phones before the balloons went dark.
The free family event precluded the annual Great Forest Park Balloon Race, Saturday, September 21, on Central Field. See related story: Great Forest Park Balloon Race Delights Thousands of Spectators