A worldwide shortage of helium will mean a little less aerial pizzazz this Saturday at the annual Libertyville Days parade.
Instead of the eight or nine big balloons that traditionally highlight the parade down Milwaukee Avenue, only three -- a Dalmatian puppy, a car and a goose -- will be floating this year. A fourth, a black and orange wildcat, will be filled with air and driven on a flatbed truck for the festivities beginning at 10 a.m.
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"There's a helium shortage in the world and it's very difficult to get helium," said Mayor Terry Weppler, a member of the Libertyville Days committee and former parade chairman. "All our regular sources said, `We don't have any.' "
One of those sources is Praxair Inc., of Hillside.
Frank Mendiola, a salesman with the company, said helium is unearthed as part of the natural gas extraction process. Russia and China are keeping 60 percent of the helium that is being extracted, he said, and demand is growing.
"There's a shortage throughout the world," he said. That means Praxair, like other companies, is not able to secure as much and the cost has increased.
"There are more important uses," for the gas, such as calibrating medical instruments and lasers, Mendiola added. The shortage has been coming but people aren't necessarily aware of it until they see higher prices for balloon arrangements, for example, he said.
One Libertyville Days committee member was able to secure helium from an out-of-state source, but even that amount is being used judiciously.
"We're going to use 15 percent nitrogen so that will reduce the amount of helium we use," said Anne Carlino, executive director of the Libertyville Civic Center Foundation.
Billed as one of Lake County's "largest and most spectacular parades" the event is a highlight of the annual Libertyville Days festival, which runs Thursday to Sunday in and around the downtown area.
The foundation operates the village-owned Civic Center, which is home to the Libertyville Senior Center and can be rented for various functions. Libertyville Days is the foundation's biggest fundraiser.
"Celebrating the Spirit" is the theme this year. A barbecue rib cook off between four local fire departments on Saturday and a pet pageant on Sunday are new offerings among many other activities.
"There won't be as many balloons but there will be a good time for everyone," Weppler said.