Lack of money grounds Rocky Mountain Balloon Festival permanently

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By AJ Vicens

The Rocky Mountain Balloon Festival, an annual fixture at Chatfield State Park for nearly a decade, has been canceled permanently.

"We just don't have the time or the resources in this economy to make this work," said Terry Smith, one of the event's organizers.

Smith said she and husband Gery DeKoevend, one of the festival's co-creators, decided at the end of 2008 to cancel this year’s festival, which was scheduled for Aug. 28-30. But after trying to organize a 2010 festival and realizing how difficult it would be to pull in the major sponsors needed, the couple realized they would have to cancel the event permanently.

"Ultimately, what we decided was that it's no longer feasible because the sponsorship issue is a big deal in this economy," Smith said. "We haven't made any money, and we've incurred a lot of personal debt. We just can't carry it anymore."

Smith said the event costs between $100,000 and $125,000, and that she and DeKoevend were losing money on the festival every year. More than 50 balloon pilots came each year, Smith said, with the festival's high in 2007 when 75 pilots showed up. Even with last summer's gas prices through the roof, 50 pilots showed up. She estimated that the event regularly drew 50,000 people over a three-day period each year.

The festival made no money from the cars that paid to enter Chatfield during the event and had to pay the state to use the park. The festival also paid for all the extra police and supplemental aviation insurance, which could add an additional $7,500.

One of the biggest problems was the way the state parks system worked with the event, Smith said.

"The state park gets all the gate revenue, and we don't get a cent of that. Then the state park charges vendors commissions, takes a portion of the profits, charges ranger fees," Smith said. "They charge for every single thing."

Messages left for Colorado State Parks spokeswoman Deb Frazier weren't returned.

Smith said the festival could return in 2010 if a big sponsor or some other entity comes through with $100,000 to help, but she's not expecting that to happen. She wants people to know that this wasn't an easy decision.

"We see that it's a big boon to the community," Smith said, getting a bit choked up. "And it's a loss. Something like this really isn't expensive in the grand scheme of things, but it can't get the support it needs."

Dawnna Telles, a balloon pilot from Wheat Ridge, flies her balloon at Chatfield at least one weekend a month. She said she'll miss the Rocky Mountain Balloon Festival.

"It was a fun place to fly," she said at the recent air show at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport. She said she'll miss seeing scores of balloons aloft and the crowds that came to watch.

Chris Liberti also said he'll miss the festival. He's a balloon pilot and the president of the Colorado Balloon Club.

"It really is a shame," Liberti said. "I think the whole Front Range loses out on that one."

Smith said she and her husband are somewhat relieved to not have to spend so much personal time and money on the event anymore, but they're still sad that the festival likely won't happen again.

"In one way, it's nice to have our lives back," Smith said. "But it was a great community event. We worked hard at it, and it was fun to see it come together and to pull it off. It's just not feasible anymore. It is what it is, and we gave it the best try we could."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.