Our view: Balloon Rodeo must be saved | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Balloon Rodeo must be saved

Few images say “Steamboat” the way a photo of colorful balloons against the backdrop of Mount Werner does.

The 24th annual Balloon Rodeo lifted off last weekend. And though it began with a bumpy ride — flights were cancelled Saturday because of inclement weather — it again provided the ideal backdrop to Rainbow Weekend.

There were tens of thousands of visitors to Steamboat Springs last weekend, participating in events that included Art in the Park, the Powder Keg Volleyball Tournament, the Ski Town USA Golf Classic, the Cowpie Classic rugby tournament and the Sonia Dada free concert.

The Balloon Rodeo, it could be argued, was the universal attraction. Whether you’re a rugby player, concert fan or an artisan, it’s pretty easy to appreciate the sight of dozens of balloons rising above the mountains. The Balloon Rodeo is the kind of signature event that helps bring visitors back. It is a cornerstone of Steamboat’s successful summertime marketing program, and it would be a shame to see the event disappear.

The Balloon Rodeo will make its 25th anniversary appearance at the Tennis Meadows in 2005. But beyond that, the event’s future is unclear.

Foremost, the event may lose its location. Whitney Ward purchased the Tennis Meadows property last year and has plans to develop Wildhorse Meadows there. He has indicated that the site may become unavailable as soon as 2006.

The Tennis Meadows is nearly perfect for the Balloon Rodeo. It offers ample parking, and its proximity to the mountain is ideal for the imagery that makes the event special. It will not be easy to find a site that offers similar conditions and backdrops.

Funding also is an issue. The Chamber Resort Association foots the bill for the event, which costs between $18,000 and $20,000.

One of the problems is that, while thousands attend and enjoy the Balloon Rodeo from sites across the city every year, no one pays admission. The chamber raises some money by selling souvenirs, but it’s not enough.

The site and funding challenges make it difficult for the chamber to guarantee balloons will soar in 2006. “I think the balloons are a huge draw,” said Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall. “I know it is one of a lot of people’s favorite events. We get calls in the winter — they’ll call you all year-round.

“If we can hang onto it, that is our first priority.”

Hanging onto the Balloon Rodeo should be a priority for the community, as well. The ways in which the community can help are straightforward — corporate sponsorships and individual donations. Businesses that count on summer visitation should weigh the value of keeping the balloons flying in deciding potential sponsorships. Individuals who have enjoyed the balloon spectacle for free for years should consider what amount might be worth it to ensure that spectacle continues. And surely the city and the chamber can work together to identify mountain-area property that could serve as a suitable site for the event.

We can’t afford to take for granted that balloons will take to the skies over Steamboat every July. The Balloon Rodeo is an important event that we should begin working to preserve before it is too late.

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