Event to be held behind Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley in Belen
Belen — After being grounded for the past two years, the skies above Valencia County will once again be dotted with colorful hot air balloons on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
Since 1985, the Valencia County Flying and Retrieval Society has hosted the St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye, however the group has had to cancel the event for the last couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Feels great, we’re really excited about it,” Grant Crawford, president of the society, said about again holding the rally following a two-year hiatus. “It’s good to be back and doing the ballooning in Belen. We’ve got the cooperation of the mayor and city council — everybody’s excited.”
The 2022 festivities were close to cancellation due to a surge of the omicron variant at the beginning of the year, but Crawford said the city of Belen came to the rescue to help with its resurrection.
“The mayor (Robert Noblin) was really instrumental in getting this back on track,” Crawford said. “Our whole thing is that we weren’t going to do it because of the mandates, face masks and all that. When he found out that’s what was happening, (Noblin) called me and said, ‘Grant, let’s get together and figure out how we can solve this problem.’”
This year’s rally is entirely funded by the city, with the Valencia County Flying and Retrieval Society aiming to collect $5,000 in donations to go towards local charities.
Typically the rally is sponsor funded, but always has some sort of opportunity for charitable donation. The non-profit organizations to benefit from the donations has not yet been announced.
“We’ve looked around the country and down here in Valencia County, they need some help,” the society president said. “So this year we’ve decided — the city of Belen has helped us do this — we are collecting donations and we will be giving balloon rides for a certain amount donated.”
The group plans to offer hot air balloon rides to anyone who offers a $150 donation during the event. A $250 donation will earn a flight for two people, and $350 a flight for three, all dependent on weather and pilot discretion. Any business that donates $350 or more will be able to hang a banner promoting their business on a balloon basket.
The three-day event will launch on Friday, March 18, with a pilot briefing at 7:15 a.m. and lift-off planned at 7:30 a.m. for VIP and media guests in the field behind Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley in Belen. The pilot and crew reception will be held later that evening at the Belen Community Center.
The main event takes place Saturday, again with pilot briefing at 7:15 a.m. and the flights beginning at 7:30 a.m., weather dependent.
After the flights, the group is excited to host tethered balloon rides and remote-controlled hot air balloons from 8-10 a.m.
“They are smaller versions that are remote controlled,” Crawford said. “They’ll be tethered in the back field there with us, and spectators can come out and talk with the remote control pilots and get involved with them on that, too.”
He added that these RC balloons first debuted at the 2021 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, and the St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye would be their first time out of Albuquerque.
The festivities wrap up on Sunday, March 20, again with a pilot briefing followed by lift-off at 7:15 a.m. The balloon tethered rides and RC balloons will again be at Calvary Chapel from 8-10 a.m.
“We want to go out, have a good time, raise a lot of money for the families and the people in need in Valencia County,” Crawford said.
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.