Color the Sky (Lake Living Spring 2020)

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Story from Lake Living Spring 2020

Hot air balloon race and festival has been a highlight in Helen for more than four decades 

by Stephanie Hill 

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  • Stephanie Hill/ Hot air balloons rising over Alpine Helen are a popular summer sight in White County.
    Stephanie Hill/ Hot air balloons rising over Alpine Helen are a popular summer sight in White County.
  • Wayne Hardy/Even when hot air balloons are not in flight, crowds visit to get a closer view and talk to racers.
    Wayne Hardy/Even when hot air balloons are not in flight, crowds visit to get a closer view and talk to racers.
  • Stephanie Hill / Participants can exhibit their hot air balloons at the site or take part of a race toward the Atlantic.
    Stephanie Hill / Participants can exhibit their hot air balloons at the site or take part of a race toward the Atlantic.
  • Wayne Hardy / It’s not just the hot air balloons’ ascension that draws attention. Visitors enjoy observing, photographing and occasionally participating in setup.
    Wayne Hardy / It’s not just the hot air balloons’ ascension that draws attention. Visitors enjoy observing, photographing and occasionally participating in setup.
  • Stephanie Hill/ Soon after the race begins, hot air balloons scatter across White County en route to the finish line at Interstate 95.
    Stephanie Hill/ Soon after the race begins, hot air balloons scatter across White County en route to the finish line at Interstate 95.
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Imagine looking up into the sky and watching a parade of hot air balloons. 

It’s a spectacle that draws thousands of people to northeast Georgia. The Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race & Festival, launched in 1974, takes place in the Alpine Village of Helen in White County, at either the end of May or beginning of June each year. 

Balloons competing in the race take to the air on a Thursday and head east toward the finish line of Interstate 95. If no contestant crosses the finish line by sunset on that Friday, the person who is leading is declared the winner. 

Not every hot air balloon at the showcase competes, though they are still a significant attraction. 

Events kick-off Thursday around 7 a.m., but thousands flock to the field before sunrise to see various balloons being set up, inflated and taking off as the sun rises. Visitors can come back that night for different balloon related activities, including tethered balloon rides if weather permits. 

A crowd favorite at the event is the glowing of the balloons. This occurs as dark arrives when fire from the burners light up the balloons for all to see amid the night sky. 

The event is typically held in a private field near the city’s downtown. From South Main Street (State Route 75) in Helen, turn onto Brucken Strasse and drive about a block through the intersection with Edelweiss Strasse. You will then cross a bridge over the Chattahoochee River and immediately turn left. 

There is no admission fee to attend, though tethered rides usually cost $10 per person. Due to safety precautions, weather and wind conditions play a major factor in whether or not the balloons will fly. 

The 2020 balloon race has been scheduled for June 4-6; however, event organizers in late April noted they were still assessing developments caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in deciding whether to hold the race.  

For updated information and activity schedules, visit helenballoon.com or search for Helen to the Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race on Facebook.