The 28th Annual Arkansas Hot Air Balloon State Championship made history this past weekend.
In 28 years, never has a balloon pilot won the key grab contest. This year, however, Al Muir, from Houston, Texas, got his balloon close enough to grab the key and take home $10,000.
Muir said he has been flying hot air balloons since 1974 and became a commercial balloon pilot in 1976. He has a history of winning and said he got close several times to the Harrison prize but needed to be earlier or earlier with wind conditions in the past.
“But this time, the balloon was there at exactly the right time for the winds,” Muir said. “I’ve told the organizers not to move the pole location because it’s a great challenge for us. I love coming to Harrison.”
He has family in the area and loves returning to this area for the festival.
Muir was a part of the World Team in 1985 and has won several races through the years.
When asked what he would do with his Harrison winnings, he responded, “I’ll pay off some debt.”
What was his secret for winning this year?
“My strategy is to fly under control,” Muir replied. “I don’t do crazy things. I’ve flown this field several times and was grateful to be there at the right time.”
Explore Harrison Executive Director Matt Bell said, “The weekend was a tremendous success. We made $7,000 in tethered rides, which helped us offset fuel costs. We are grateful to KOA and Anderson Propane for helping us with fueling.”
The 13 balloons could fly all four of the scheduled times and for the Balloon Glow, which is often tricky with the weather.
The community enjoyed the petting zoo, helicopter rides, music, and bounce houses.
“Impact Tees told me they had many more out-of-state customers than expected,” Bell said. “But I saw lots of local faces I knew, and I think we had the biggest Friday night crowd we’ve ever had, and Saturday was a good crowd, too.”
Explore Harrison Office Manager Renee Swanson said, “We could not have done it without all the volunteers.”
Bell added, “We had 105 four-hour spots for people to sign up to volunteer. That’s a lot of volunteer hours. Those numbers didn’t count the hours students from Bergman and Alpena put in during the weekend.”
Swanson added, “The 40 students did a great job, and we were very appreciative.”
Bell added, “I also want to thank the City’s Public Works and Parks and Rec. They worked a ton and added to the success of the event. And I can’t leave out our corporate sponsors. We appreciate how the community comes together for the success of this event. Thank you to everyone who worked hard and everyone who came to enjoy this event. We were proud to host it again.”
Mayor Jerry Jackson said, “We really appreciate how the City and Explore Harrison work together to make an event of this magnitude happen in our community.”
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