Spirits lifted at Grand Marais Rec Park
Will Moore
Community Voices

Spirits lifted at Grand Marais Rec Park

Grand Marais residents were treated to an unusual and picturesque sight on the evening of Thursday Jun. 27. Gary Whitby and his wife, Cindy Whitby (nee LaBerta), were in town for a family reunion, and brought along their hot air balloon.

Gary Whitby has been a hot air balloon pilot for over 30 years, working events all over the country. He told WTIP that he and Cindy had been at an event in Missouri right before coming up to Grand Marais, so they had the balloon and equipment with them. After watching the weather over the week, Whitby said that Thursday evening ended up being a perfect day at the Grand Marais Municipal Rec Park for filling the balloon and giving tethered rides.

Whitby said that balloons are a rarer sighting in this part of the country. He added that to safely launch a balloon, good weather is required. He said, “You can’t have thunderstorms or rain or high winds. Around a large body of water you tend to get a lot of wind.” On Thursday, however, the conditions were right, and the couple took passengers up. Whitby said that they took roughly 75 passengers up over the course of the evening, with each tethered ride going up about 50 ft from the ground. 

The balloon was secured to several trucks on the ground. Whitby described the balloon as “small to medium” in size, saying that the basket holds the pilot and two passengers at most. The envelope of the balloon holds 77,000 cubic feet of air. Whitby suggested envisioning 77,000 basketballs. He said that it is 82 ft tall from the ground, with a 65 ft diameter. While Whitby is the pilot, he was quick to point out that it takes a whole crew to manage a hot air balloon. He said that his wife, her family, and curious community members, were all on hand to help out. He said, “It takes a crew. Fortunately we had a lot of people there to help us.”

Whitby said that he hoped that people enjoyed seeing the balloon, even those who saw it from afar. He explained that one of the burners that keeps the balloon aloft is bright enough to make the balloon glow. He also said that he was happy that so many people were interested in the balloon and taking a short ride in it. He said, “The best part of ballooning is to share the experience with other people.”