GRANT COUNTY - The sight of trucks toting big baskets and bearing colorful logos can signal just one thing - It's hot air balloon time.

The third annual Hot Air Balloon Festival, sponsored by the Grant County Chamber of Commerce and Ed Staub & Sons Propane, takes to the skies this Friday through Sunday, Oct. 22-24.

Chamber executive director Sharon Mogg said 10 balloons will soar during this year's event, with teams and pilots coming in from such locations as the Willamette Valley, Walla Walla, Wash., and Boise, Idaho.

The public can enjoy activities including sunrise launches (starting at approximately 7:15 a.m.) each morning from Mt. Vernon Middle School, a meet-the-sponsors dinner 5 p.m. Friday night at the Mt. Vernon Community Hall, and a "nightglow" starting at 6:15 p.m. Saturday night at the John Day Golf Course.

The dinner menu features smokehouse roast beef with all the trimmings, served by Russell's Custom Meats and Deli. The cost is $12 a person. There will be art displays by the Grant County Art Association, with the Up River Country Band providing music.

There also will be a bowling competition from 1-4 p.m. Saturday at Kountry Lanes in John Day, for the pilots, crew, sponsors and their families, Mogg said.

During the nightglow, the grounded balloons perform a choreographed routine, with their propane burners making each one glow in the evening dusk.

Before the nightglow, about 5 p.m., there will be a barbecue "courtesy of the 'Jackson Razzle Dazzle Committee,'" according to Mogg. The cost for a burger, chips and drink is $5 a person or $4 for a hotdog, chips and drink.

There will be tethered rides, on Friday morning only, at the middle school in Mt. Vernon. After eight balloons have lifted off, the remaining two will give tethered rides. The cost is by donation.

Prior to Sunday's flights, there will be a 7 a.m. nondenominational service at the school, led by Richie Colbeth, chaplain of Cowboy Chapel in John Day.

All balloon launches and rides are weather permitting.

Balloon rides cost $150 per person, which goes to the Chamber to defray costs to the pilots for travel and some of the rides. Four rides have been already auctioned off, each going for about the $150 asking price, according to Mogg.

The Chamber is also holding a drawing for one ride; tickets are $1 each, six for $5, 12 for $10, or 25 for $20. The winner will be drawn at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, at the Chamber office.

"It's so humbling for me that even in these tough times, how this community pulled together to support this event," Mogg said. "This is a testament to our amazing community and the spectacular things that happen through our combined energies and resources."

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