Planning is underway for Ascension Parish’s fourth Hot Air Balloon Festival set for Sept. 25-26 at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

In addition to towering, colorful hot air balloons, this year’s festival will feature more carnival rides, an expanded Children’s Village and a balloon photo booth.

Parish President Tommy Martinez, the Ascension Parish Council, along with the Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council Inc. said balloonists from around the country will again descend upon the parish for the festival.

The first two hot air balloon festivals were organized by a nonprofit group headed by businessman Brad Walker, but parish government revamped the festival operations after two years.

Last year’s trimmed-down event saw more than 50,000 visitors and more corporate sponsors pick up the bills, parish officials have said.

“The end of September now marks an important date for Ascension Parish’s premier balloon festival,” Martinez said. “Our committee has been meeting for months, and the festival is shaping up to be another fine event for families in the parish and region.”

This year’s event will again have balloon glows and tethered rides pending safe weather conditions.

More than 30 balloons from across the country have signed up for this year’s event, said Robert Ambeau, head of flight operations. Ambeau said special shape balloons also will grace the sky each evening during the balloon glows.

Hot air balloon tethered rides will be available for $20 per those 13 and older and $10 per child 12 and under.

Hot air balloon pilots will face off in competition each morning, but only if the weather cooperates.

“We want everyone to know that safety is our No. 1 goal, and we will be monitoring wind conditions to make sure this is a safe event,” Ambeau said.

Barbecue pits will fire up at 8 a.m. on Sept. 26, signaling the start of the Battle of the Badges Barbecue Competition. Teams made up of police, fire departments and emergency responders will compete for bragging rights and trophies, with the final decisions concluding at 5 p.m.

Blues bands will take to the stage starting at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. on Saturday. Music acts include Elvin Killerbee and Chris LeBlanc on Sept. 25 and Don Berry and Rock-N-Horse followed by blues ace Mike Zito and south Louisiana show band Nick-L-Beer on Sept. 26.

Face painting and DNA/fingerprinting again will be offered to children, along with tours of the Fire Safety House.

The Steinhauer Arts and Crafts show again will take place next door in the Trade Mart Building on both days.

Fireworks will begin promptly at 8:30 p.m. each night followed by continued live blues music until closing at 10 p.m.

A Classic Car Show is in the works, organizers said. Information will be forthcoming.

Admission is $5 for ages 13 and older and free for children 12 and under on each day. Organizers encourage festivalgoers to bring their own lawn chairs. Ice chests, pets, bicycles and personal motorized vehicles are prohibited.

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