WATERLOO, Iowa --- My Waterloo Days organizers are hoping a blast from the past will lift this year's festival to new heights.

"The balloons are back," proclaimed Doug Carter, chairman of this year's MWD committee.

The annual community festival scheduled for May 30 through June 2 is bringing back the once popular hot air balloon rally --- an iconic event discontinued in 2007 --- and is calling itself "The Sky's The Limit."

"The number one comment we would get when we did critiques and surveys at the end of the festival was 'get the balloons back,'" Carter said. "It was the cornerstone event, the symbol we used."

While the previous balloon rally was held in Byrnes Park, this year's staging area will be at 300 W. Mullan Ave. downtown --- the former location of the Grand Hotel --- with plans to have the balloons float over the main festival grounds at the RiverLoop Expo Plaza and RiverLoop Arts Mall and Amphitheatre.

"It will be different than it was at Byrnes," said Janelle Darst, festival director. "You won't have all the bands and vendors amongst the balloons."

Carter said early feedback on the balloons' return has been positive.

"The weather is always a huge factor," Carter said. But lift-offs are planned for Friday evening, twice on Saturday and Sunday morning during the festival, providing multiple opportunities for a successful launch.

With each ascension, a dozen pilots will navigate the prevailing winds and attempt to throw markers at targets throughout the metro area. Points will be tallied with each task and winners will share $3,000 in prize money at a Sunday awards brunch.

Another new event is an Arts Festival and Chalk the Block on Saturday and Sunday in the RiverLoop Arts Mall area and a community worship service at the Amphitheatre from 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday.

"We'll be using the amphitheater for the first time this year," Darst said.

Traditional events will be back, including People in the Park at Lincoln Park on Thursday and Friday; the downtown parade Friday evening; Celebrate at the Expo Saturday, including fireworks; and the Dragon Boats and Waterhawks ski show at Cedar River Park on Sunday. A carnival, vendors, entertainment and children's activities are part of all events.

"We're still trying to move forward and trying to redefine My Waterloo Days into the signature festival for Waterloo," Carter said. "We're always looking for feedback and trying to make it better.

"What we're giving up this year is (events at) the airport," he said. "I liked that part of it, but logistically it's tough. Traffic is difficult."

Meanwhile, volunteer opportunities and sponsorships for all events including individual balloon teams, are available. Contact Darst at janelle.darst@gmail.com or 231-2435. Vendor applications are still being accepted.

"This event is volunteer driven, that's what makes it go," Carter said. "We're putting the call out to both citizens and business. We're asking you to step up and make this a good festival."

For more information, visit www.mainstreetwaterloo.org or find My Waterloo Days on Facebook.


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