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Hot-air balloons will take flight over four days for new Lift Up St. Louis event

Hot-air balloons will take flight over four days for new Lift Up St. Louis event

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47th Great Forest Park Balloon Race

Bethany Coffey fires the burner in a balloon sponsored by Purina in 2019, before the Great Forest Park Balloon Race. 

In 2019, winds kept the hot air balloons from lifting off for the Great Forest Park Balloon Race. Hopefully, this year’s pandemic won’t have the same effect.

Organizers of the event, which typically draws thousands of people to Central Fields in Forest Park to enjoy a nighttime balloon glow followed by a daytime festival and launch, had to rethink 2020.

Balloons are uplifting, and the region could certainly afford to look to the skies and smile.

Sept. 17 marks the first day of Lift Up St. Louis, a series of hot air balloon flights paying tribute to essential workers, educators, health care professionals and even people standing up for change. The flights continue through Sept. 20.

“We knew we could fly and give people something to look forward to and smile about and not have to worry about the in-person gathering,” says Jessica Stegen, spokesperson for the race. “Once we started thinking about it, we thought this has been lifting up St. Louis for years. We wanted to focus on and turn our attention to honoring the people who are getting St. Louis through these times.”

About 20 hot air balloon pilots will take part in the four-day event, with four or five balloons taking flight. They will launch from a handful of locations around St. Louis. Organizers have scouted locations but won’t know which ones will be used until they can determine weather conditions and wind direction.

Real-time updates will be posted at greatforestparkballoonrace.com/liftupstl and twitter.com/gfpballoonrace. The balloons likely will fly between 6 and 8 a.m. and 4 and 6 p.m., when weather conditions are ideal.

Organizers also announced a social media campaign to raise money for the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. Participants are encouraged to share a photo and tribute to someone who lifts them up — whether that’s an essential worker, a parent helping out with child care, a teacher or a family pet bought during the pandemic — and include the hashtag #LiftUpSTL.

For every post, PNC Bank will donate $25 to the Urban League. The donations will continue through September.

This is the 48th year for the event, though the race itself has been canceled a handful of times due to wind and inclement weather. The balloon glow and race were canceled in 2016 because of muddy, wet conditions on the grounds.

The free festival will return to Central Fields in 2021. But Stegen says organizers hope to Lift Up St. Louis throughout the year with the social media campaign.

“I think as we developed this, our team realized Lift Up St. Louis is something that has been our goal for 48 years,” she says. “It gives us an opportunity to make this a pillar of the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, even if we turn back to normal and have our two days in the park.”

What Lift Up St. Louis • When Sept. 17-20 • Where Launching in St. Louis, St. Louis County, real-time updates online • How much Free • More info greatforestparkballoonrace.com/liftupstl

Originally published Sept. 10.

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