BELEN — A multitude of colorful hot air balloons will take to the skies during next week’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye, marking the 37th year of the event.

“The balloons are just beautiful, floating in the air. It’s a great time to walk around through the balloons,” said Kelli Ballengee, a local balloon pilot and one of the event organizers. “This really allows spectators to get down amongst the balloons and get up close and personal.”

News-Bulletin file photo
Hot air balloons will launch at 7 a.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 17-19, weather permitting, for the 37th annual St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye.

Since 1985, the Valencia Flying and Retrieval Society has continuously hosted the St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye, weather permitting, with the exception of 2020 and 2021, when the rally was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The VFRS is gearing up for this year’s event, which will be Friday, March 17, through Sunday, March 19, at Eagle Park, 305 Eagle Lane, in Belen.

There will be a pilot briefing at 7 a.m. each day, with balloons launches starting around 7:15 a.m., Ballengee said. The flights on Friday morning are reserved for rally sponsors and VIP guests, she said, and on Saturday, pilots will be offering tethered balloon rides to attendees for a donation.

Balloons will launch for a final time on Sunday morning, weather permitting, but there won’t be tethered rides.

Anyone who is interested in being on a balloon crew should come to the park at about 6:30 a.m. to sign up.

Once the balloons leave the park, there will be tethered, radio controlled miniature hot air balloons flying.

“They’re tiny compared to regular balloons,” Ballengee said. “They have little propane heaters that are remotely controlled so the balloon can go up and down.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Belen
City of Belen tourism director Amanda Freeman, left, presents Belen High School senior Dariya Malanyuk with a first place certificate for her winning artwork on this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye flyer.

As is tradition, proceeds from the weekend will be donated to a local charity, Ballengee said, which will be chosen after the rally.

This year, organizers are expecting 26 balloons, including special shapes Smokey Bear and Squawkurs, everyone’s favorite green parrot.

VFRS will be selling T-shirts and pins with this year’s rally logo at its table Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. to noon.

The city of Belen is assisting the VFRS with the event, putting together the pilots’ dinner and reception on Friday evening, said the city’s tourism coordinator, Amanda Freeman.

Courtesy of the city of Belen
This year’s St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye flyer was drawn by Belen High School senior Dariya Malanyuk.

In addition, Freeman has coordinated with two local food trucks — Game Changer Grill and Red Wagon Coffee — to come out to the early morning event, and members of Dance in Motion will be there selling raffle tickets.

The city of Belen Employee Appreciation committee will also be selling food and drinks to fundraise for its annual event.

Ballengee said the Business Women of Valencia County will be out at the park, selling coffee and doughnuts as well.

To get the community further involved, Freeman asked Belen High School art teacher Egan Ulbricht to help the city conduct a contest for this year’s rally flyer. There were 16 entries, and BHS senior Dariya Malanyuk was the winner.

“I’m a mom and believe in kids and the arts,” Freeman said. “I thought it would be a good idea to involve the Belen High School art class. Dariya won and she was super excited.

“One thing about Belen is we have a lot to offer. This is a free event. People can bring their families, it gives pilots a time to show off their balloons and have a nice, safe event that’s beautiful.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.