With rapid growth, Balloon Fest faces some challenges - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

With rapid growth, Balloon Fest faces some challenges

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WAUSAU (WAOW) -- Ribs and hot air balloons have proven to be a winning combination for central Wisconsin.

Organizers of Wausau's Balloon and Rib Festival say it's grown by thousands during its 13 years. They expect 30,000 this weekend. That's up from about 500 people who were at the very first balloon rally.

"It was a little rough," said Rick Threewitt, the owner of Great Lakes Climbing who's been at the festival since the beginning. "A lot less vendors and a lot less people but by the second year, they doubled that number."

Threewitt says he's never seen an event grow faster in the state of Wisconsin.

With that success comes some challenges, like parking.

"Parking has definitely been a struggle and that's why this year we added some shuttle stops," said Kasey Taube, a festival coordinator from Wausau Events.

There was a hiccup keeping the lights on too. Organizers say they had to kill all power for ten minutes Thursday night.

"We kind of outgrew the electricity so we had to put more electricity in for all of the vendors," Taube said.

Some have raised the question of whether the event might be better off in a different location.

In response, Taube said "that time may come, [but] it hasn't yet."

Neighbors say that's good news.

"Everybody just appreciates showing off our neighborhood," said Ann Hoesly of Wausau. "We have a great place."

They take advantage of the crowds by having rummage sales.

"Half the community comes into the neighborhood for the Balloon Fest and they generally spill over way down here on Kent Street," Hoesly said.

Some say the overflow of people can get to be a bit much.

"It's sometimes hard to find a parking spot," said Paul Kennedy of Wausau.

Hoesly says the traffic can get hectic after the fireworks too.

But they say for one weekend, it's worth it.

"I've never heard anyone complain about it," said Hoesly.

Neighbors say there are at least five garage sales in the neighborhood around here, and enough people spill over from Balloon Fest that they say they don't even compete with each other.

Word is spreading across the country about this event as well.

Organizers say this has gotten so big that they're welcoming in people from Illinois and even as far away as South Carolina this weekend.
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