As published in Travel Magazine, April 2011 article written by Joy Hampton.
Held in August at Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs located on Highway 20 east of Claremore, the annual Gatesway Balloon Festival is a family friendly even with fun for all ages. Anywhere from 30 to 50 balloons will be on display and in the air at the festival.
“When you fly in a balloon, you’re automatically an aeronaut,” said Greg Sturge, a Tulsa information Technology manager who’s been flying hot air balloons for 20 years. Sturge first crewed for a friend for a year. “After my first flight I said, “I’ve got to have one of these.”
He got his license and now owns a sport balloon. Sturge is just one of many participants in the annual Gateway Balloonfest. “There’s no steering wheel,” Sturge said, as the b balloon lifted into the air. “We go wherever the wind takes us.”
Family events at the Balloonfest include a kids area, Shriner mini cars, arts and craft vendors, food, car and bike show, hottest dog contest, hot air guitar contest and live music, just to name some of the entertainment available. Evening flights at the annual Gatesway event light up the sky above Rogers and Mayes Counties with brilliant dots of color.
These hot air balloon glows are the highlight of the festival. Proceeds raised during this event help enhance, support and expand the growth of the programs and services provided by Gatesway Foundation to people with developmental disabilities.
Aeronauts like Sturge look forward to the Balloonfest each year. “We’ve done every Gatesway event there is,” said Sturge. “It was started by Mrs. Gates 30 or 40 years ago because her son had developmental disabilities. Back then the only option was Vinita. Now there are other options and more independence. Independence for the developmentally disabled includes a trade and assisted or independent living.
“It’s a wonderful organization,” said Sturge. He calls his bright red balloon Fireball named after the teardrop emergency light used by many volunteer fire department personnel to reach the scene of a fire. Sturge is a former fireman and medic. At different elevations the wind can take different directions. “You learn to read the winds,” said Sturge. “We have incredible vertical control and no horizontal control. We’re at the mercy of the wind.
About the Gatesway Foundation:
Gatesway in a non-profit Oklahoma agency that provides opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities. Services are provided throughout Northeastern and Central Oklahoma. Gatesway was founded in 1963 by Helen Gates to provide alternatives for persons with developmental disabilities.