Organizers ask support for Hot Air Balloon fest in Williamston

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By Stan Welch
While it won’t be official until a vote is taken at next Monday’s meeting of the Williamston Town Council, it was clear at Tuesday night’s workshop that support of the town’s inaugural hot air balloon event is solid.
Angie Stringer, of the Cancer Association of Anderson, was on hand to present the idea of a three day hot air balloon festival dubbed the Hot Air Affair – Rising Above Cancer. The dates will be May 1- 3.  While the event has been held in other locations for two years previously, Stringer’s vision is to make Williamston the event’s official home site. “I really believe that the charm of this town and the attraction that such an event always becomes will work together beautifully to put Williamston on the tourist map and on the balloonist calendar.”
She mentioned an event in Helen, Georgia that has become a huge attraction to both the ballooning community as well as the general public. “It takes the town over for that week. Rooms are taken, restaurants are full, and the skies are dotted with balloons. I can see that here in Williamston in just a few years.”
She already has three dozen applications for the Hot Air Affair but is planning to limit the number to twenty. “I would rather see a smaller event held that is successful the first time than to reach too far. We try very hard to put on a good event wherever we go. We treat these balloonists very well, so that the word spreads that this is a quality event. A lot of these balloonists travel the world attending these events. Getting Williamston on their calendar of events will be a very big thing.”
Stringer, accompanied by Roger Dickson, was on hand seeking some financial support, for items such as pilots’ hotel rooms, porta johns for the crowds, advertising and food. “We feed them well. This isn’t a chips and salsa crowd. They spend a lot of energy on their sport and it takes a lot of fuel. And again, we want the word to get out that this is a quality event.”
Some organizations actually pay to participate because the exposure is so valuable. Stringer will also seek corporate sponsorships to defray the costs. In addition, there will be amusements, vendors, food trucks and entertainment to occupy the crowds between the morning and afternoon flights. There will also be a patriotic jump in by the Special Forces Association Parachute Team. Mayor Durham expressed a willingness to join them on the jump.
The event will begin with a media flight on Friday morning and will include tethered ascents, flights, evening glows, where the balloons are inflated and illuminated, and a Sunday morning memorial flight with a celebration of life and a remembrance butterfly release, to honor both those fighting cancer and those who may have lost their battles. Stringer, a cancer survivor, stressed that the true purpose of the event is to raise awareness about cancer.
Mayor Durham pointed out that the event will serve as a great kickoff to the town’s normal series of outdoor events. “We’ll all have a touch of cabin fever by then. What a great way to start our spring and summer season of events.”
The chairman of the town  planning commission, Marion Middleton Jr., was on hand to discuss a broader, more active role for the commission. He expressed his commission’s willingness to be more involved, such as requesting studies on various issues facing the town, and presenting positions on those issues even before they arise. “We feel like we can consolidate and organize a lot of the public input and just the general flow of information so that it is more focused and precise by the time it comes before the council.”
Councilman Rockey Burgess pointed out that he had sought information from the Municipal Association about the actual official scope of the planning commission’s duties. “The purview of the commission is restricted to land and land use issues,” said Burgess. Middleton agreed, conceding that the commission could certainly not take votes or spend money. “But we have an intelligent, engaged membership and we just want to stay busy.”
Burgess also informed the council that the demolition date for Palmetto Middle School was being delayed by the district in response to numerous requests for a final, more formal closing, which would allow the public a chance for a nostalgic final tour of the facility. “They were scheduled to start tearing it down right after the last bus left on the last day of school. But it looks like the end of May now. The date is yet to be determined, but this also provides a great opportunity for the three towns to share in their common heritage and their memories.”
Burgess predicted huge crowds, and asked that the town provide fifteen hundred dollars of a twenty five hundred dollars fee to engage the Jake Bartley Band for a concert during the event. “Mayor Blake Sanders has committed to a five hundred dollar contribution, and we are hopeful that Pelzer will do the same.”