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Fun gets inflated at Harvest Balloon Festival
Flowery Branch event draws a big crowd with kids activities and more
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Austin Owens, 14, and Mikayla Pogue, 10, spin a wheel in attempt to win prizes at the sixth annual Harvest Balloon Festival on Saturday at Sterling on the Lake in Flowery Branch. An average of 7,000 people attend the festival each year. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Yelps of delight escaped the inflatable hamster balls as kids took turns rolling around the lower lawn in front of the clubhouse of the Sterling on the Lake Community, crowds of spectators watching from the banks opposite the lake.

“Yeah, it was fun,” 10-year-old Skylar Byrum said catching her breath after exiting the hamster ball.

Her parents reminding her that it must be fun to be willing to stand in line, twice. Byrum said it was worth it.

The sixth annual Harvest Balloon Festival was held at the Sterling on the Lake Community in Flowery Branch on Saturday afternoon. For $1 admission fee, guests were able to spend the day enjoying a variety of activities leading up to tethered balloon rides starting after 5:30 p.m., pending weather conditions.

All funds raised from the festival benefit two local charities, Challenged Child & Friends and the Hall County Animal Shelter. The event has raised $120,000 for local charities.

With crowds expected to reach into the thousands, shuttles were provided for people parking at Flowery Branch High School.

Leah Robinson of Athens saw the event on social media but made the drive to see her niece and nephew, and of course the balloons.

“It’s a fun event,” Robinson said as she met her niece and nephew getting off one of the carnival rides.

“They just rode the rides and they’ve done the hayride and stuff so they’re having a lot of fun.”

The crowds shuffled past the local business, craft and food vendors that lined the perimeter of the community lawn, where people were scattered enjoying makeshift picnics, catching up with new friends or enjoying the open grass, children doing backflips or playing a game of catch as they waited for the balloons.

“It’s really nice; I think that it’s all great. It is wonderful for the kids,” said Mellisa Baronci of Buford, who stood by as her son Christopher had his face painted green like a popular ninja turtle.

Screams of excitement echoed around the area as children and adults enjoyed carnival rides, free crafts like wax hands and sand art, and the chance to paint a pumpkin to take home. In addition, there were festival favorites like inflatable slides and the inflatable hamster ball racing.

“The line’s long, but it’s what he wanted to do so it’s worth it until the balloons come out,” Baronci said.

With plans to stop by to see a friend who was one of the barbecue vendors and watch the balloons, everything else she said was a bonus.

“I wanted to go last year and it was raining,” Baronci said, determined not to miss another year. “So I was like we’re going to go, it’s such a beautiful day out, and it’s gorgeous out. I had no idea it would be this big of a turn out.”

For more information, visit www.harvestballoonfestival.com.

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