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AUGUST 4, 1997


balloons There will be fewer balloons over the Sammamish Valley after the Balloon Depot announced the end of its flights.

Woodinville Weekly photo

Balloons disappearing from above Woodinville?

  by A.T. Walgamott
   There will be fewer hot air balloons in the sunsets over the Sammamish Valley soon. One local balloon company has announced they are pulling out of the area after twenty years of flights.
   "This is the last season for this valley as far as I'm concerned," said Jay Woodward, owner of The Balloon Depot of Redmond. The problem: not enough launching or landing sites. Open areas where hot air balloons can stage are being swallowed up by new buildings.
   "We're spending a greater and greater proportion of our flights going over development," Woodward said.
   Woodward, whose company flies between three and five balloons, says three launch sites near Woodinville recently became unavailable, including the TRF site, a field near Brittany Park and fields near Home Depot. Two landing sites near Redmond, the model airplane field by 60 Acres soccer fields and a meadow near Willows Run Golf Course, will soon be off-limits as well.
   Woodward says it isn't feasible to launch from a parking lot or roof of a building, much less land on one.
   "The damage is done. The buildings are up. The parking lots are there," Woodward said, adding that nothing could be done to change his mind unless construction was halted and buildings were leveled. His company flies balloons decorated with custom artwork, including bags with a yellow rose, a seagull and a rising sun.
   Woodward, a pilot since 1992, says balloons have a very narrow window of opportunity for flying, generally the hours nearest sunrise and sunset when the winds are calm. Pilots don't know until an hour-and-a-half before the flight if they're going up. He adds that balloons aren't steered like cars; they go with the wind. With the loss of launch and landing sites, trajectories are being narrowed down.
   Woodward says that because of unsure weather conditions this year, he has done only half the flights of last year.
   "I see the writing on the wall. There's no point in pushing it until somebody hits a power line," Woodward said.
   This will mean approximately 2,000 less people will be taking balloon rides over the valley a year, by Woodward's estimates. Each balloon ride lasts approximately an hour to an hour-and-a half. At $110-$145 a ride per person, that's a sizable amount of revenue leaving the area. Woodward says he's taking his business to Carnation or Enumclaw, where there are still green fields.
   This could be a problem for Woodinville. A balloon decorates the city's logo.
   "We want to do everything we can do to keep balloons here, but it's difficult to tell property owners to let them land," Woodinville City Councilmember Lucy DeYoung said.
   But not all balloon companies are leaving. Bill Starr, owner of Over the Rainbow Balloon Flights of Woodinville, says his company will keep flying in the Sammamish Valley. He says there are still plenty of places to launch and land.
   "It's still safe," Starr said. "You just have to be more particular about flying days and have the right flying conditions so you don't head to an area that's developed."