Memorial Day balloon festival is canceled, but organizers hope to bring it back next year

Experience in 360 degrees the Freedom Balloon Fest

Experience in a 360 degree video as balloons light up the skies in May 2017 during the Freedom Balloon Fest at Fleming Loop Park in Fuquay-Varina, NC
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Experience in a 360 degree video as balloons light up the skies in May 2017 during the Freedom Balloon Fest at Fleming Loop Park in Fuquay-Varina, NC

The Memorial Day hot air balloon festival that Fuquay-Varina has hosted the last several years will not happen this year, but organizers are hoping to find a new home for it in 2020.

Since 2016, tens of thousands of people had traveled to the town’s Fleming Loop Recreational Park for the Freedom Balloon Festival. They came to ride in the dozens of hot air balloons, listen to bands and celebrate Memorial Day, which honors service members killed in conflicts.

But the park recently underwent a major facelift, and construction delays led town officials and festival organizers to agree earlier this year that the festival couldn’t happen there.

“Two hurricanes and record rain through much of the second half of 2018 have led to several construction delays, which compounded concerns our volunteers raised about the likelihood of damaging fragile sod,” the festival’s organizers wrote on their website earlier this year.

They added: “Yes, we are seeking a new location for Freedom Balloon Fest to continue our all-volunteer mission to remember, honor and celebrate. To be continued.”

Project Uplift USA, the charity that has hosted the Freedom Balloon Festival, will still celebrate Memorial Day with a more somber kind of remembrance.

It is inviting people to visit the Fuquay-Varina American Legion Post at 6400 Johnson Pond Road, where they will create a field of flags memorial. For a donation, people can place an American flag in the field between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, as well as 8 to 10 a.m. Monday. After a Memorial Day ceremony, the flags will be placed in cemeteries around the region.

“Our mission No. 1 has always been the Field of Flags,” organizer Brian Hoyle said in a Facebook video addressed to supporters. “It’s what Memorial Day weekend is really all about. All the celebration is important, too, and that’s the way they would want it for us, but please take time to remember and honor this weekend.”

He also urged anyone interested in having their town host the balloon festival in the future to reach out to Project Uplift USA or their local elected officials.

There are numerous other Memorial Day events scheduled around the Triangle this weekend.

In Durham at the Bennett Place State Historic Site, reenactors will represent soldiers from multiple periods in American history from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for kids 5-16 and free for younger children.

At the Raleigh National Cemetery, at 501 Rock Quarry Road, American Legion Post 1 will host a wreath ceremony on Sunday, starting with music at 1:30 p.m.

There will be another wreath-laying ceremony in Raleigh, at 10:45 a.m Monday at the N.C. Veterans Monument on the Edenton Street side of the State Capitol, hosted by the Tar Heel Detachment 733 of the Marine Corps League.

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Will Doran reports on North Carolina politics, with a focus on state employees and agencies. In 2016 he started The News & Observer’s fact-checking partnership, PolitiFact NC, and before that he reported on local governments around the Triangle. Contact him at wdoran@newsobserver.com or (919) 836-2858.