Standing at the top of Tomé Hill, taking in the breathtaking view, Brittany Campbell knew she had to give back.
“I’m a long-time Valencia County resident and I always look forward to the (Good Friday) pilgrimage,” Campbell said. “One day I hiked to the top of the hill and I felt like I was taking advantage of something; this place is such a blessing and I wanted to show my appreciation.”
A commercial hot air balloon pilot, Campbell struck on the idea of flying people over the hill on Good Friday, April 2, as a fundraiser for the hill’s owner, the town of Tomé Land Grant.
“They didn’t ask me to do this. They aren’t soliciting funds. They wanted to make that very clear,” she said. “I wanted to make sure it was OK with them, especially on Good Friday. I also reached out to the local Catholic church. This was definitely a situation to ask for permission not forgiveness.”
On Monday, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced the Tomé Hill and Santuario de Chimayo group pilgrimages were canceled again this year. While the archdiocese owns Chimayo and can control access to the chapel and property, it does not own or control Tomé Hill.
Andrea Padilla, president of the board of the town of Tomé Land Grant, says the hill and park will be open as usual.
“As far as we’re concerned, people can make the climb but they need to understand if something does happen, help might be delayed,” Padilla said. “We allow people to climb the hill year round, and they need to be aware if they do come out for Good Friday, as always, it’s at their own risk. The hill and the park will be open.”
Padilla hasn’t heard from Valencia County about providing traffic control, having emergency medical personnel on stand-by and other services it usually provides.
Valencia County interim Fire Chief Casey Davis said in light of the archdiocese’s direction, the county would not have its usual presence for the pilgrimage other than normal response to emergency calls, if needed.
That openness to the public was a big reason Campbell said she wants to give back to the land grant.
“They don’t restrict it, let us hike it and use it. It’s really an incredible thing,” she said.
Campbell and four other pilots will be providing flights over the hill and all of them will be working for free. Her employees, chase crew and the cost of propane will be covered by the ticket sales, with the rest going to the land grant.
Flights are $300 per person and if they can’t fly due to weather conditions, Campbell said flights will be rescheduled either in Valencia County or over the river valley in Albuquerque.
The fee is nonrefundable so the donation can be made to the land grant, she said, but the flights are guaranteed. Ideally, Campbell would like to sell 15 to 20 tickets for the charity flights.
For more information about purchasing tickets for a flight, call Brittany Campbell at 239-3733 or visit her website at flyalbuquerque.com. She said if anyone in the area is concerned about balloons flying over their property and disturbing livestock, they should call as well.
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.