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updated: 7/1/2014 7:18 PM

Eyes to the Skies ready to take flight

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  • Lisle's Eyes to the Skies festival offers all sorts of entertainment, but one of the major highlights continues to be the balloons.

    Lisle's Eyes to the Skies festival offers all sorts of entertainment, but one of the major highlights continues to be the balloons.
    Daily Herald file photo

By Miles Dobis

When Eyes to the Skies organizer Val Vlazny heard a cry for help as he was riding his bike through the streets of Lisle, the last place he expected it to come from was right above his head.

The pilot of a hot-air balloon was having trouble landing and Vlazny soon found himself lending the thankful pilot a helping hand.

"They showed me how to secure the balloon and showed me the basics, and from then on I was hooked," he said.

Vlazny will be one of the many balloon pilots at this year's 32nd annual Eyes to the Skies, a balloon festival that will run from July 3 to 5 at Community Park near Route 53 and Short Street in Lisle.

Taking advantage of the park's open field, the festival is considered one of the best of its kind in the Midwest.

"I've had nothing but a great time at Lisle," frequent participant Travis Vecel said.

The event, which started as a complementary festival to the village's 150th anniversary celebration in 1982, has now literally ballooned to encompass the entire 110 acres of Lisle's Community Park, and includes a carnival, craft fair, children's area and plenty of fireworks.

Despite the additions, the festival's focus remains on balloons. This year more than 20 will take to the skies, with spheres, monkeys and rocket ships vying for airspace above the field.

Because of the dense development of the suburbs and lack of landing locations, the balloons rarely leave their tether, but visitors can still walk up to the crafts, chat with the pilots and, weather permitting, even take a ride.

The flights are scheduled from 5 to 9 p.m. and cost $20 for adults and $15 for children for a 5-minute trip. Flights around sunset limit the wind that can shake balloons, and the darkness allows for the Balloon Glow, an event where entries such as the Earth Balloon are allowed to be lit from within and illuminate the darkening field.

"It's a beautiful event during the evenings," said Fred Haber, a co-chairman for the event. "Watching all of those balloons in the air shows the kind of artistry behind what these people do."

Haber is a member of the festival's all-volunteer committee, which brings in musical acts, restaurants and children's entertainment for the festival.

But the role of reserving and organizing the balloons rests with an independent promoter. SkyCab, a balloon promoter based out of Louisville, Kentucky, is partnering with Eyes to the Skies for the first time, bringing in seven new shaped balloons such as the Old Lady and the Shoe, a riff off the nursery rhyme.

"We're really excited this year about the additional shapes and new designs we'll be having with SkyCab," Haber said.

Besides balloons, the festival also will feature an extensive carnival strip on the east side of the park. The setup will be open one day before and after the rest of the festival from July 2 to 6.

Nearly 30 food vendors will on hand at two separate food courts, and two stages will feature groups like cover band Bostyxx and '90s alternative rockers Gin Blossoms.

"It's a great way to see the community involved," Vlazny said. "We have hundreds of volunteers that help out and you can really see families enjoying this pretty unique spectacle."

An experienced pilot, Vlazny talks warmly as he demonstrates setting up his yellow and blue balloon for preteens at Lisle Camp Summer Quest. Meticulously unspooling the ropes and clearing the basket, Vlazny pulls a lever causing a three-second blast of hot flames and triggering delighted squeals from kids that echo across the pond.

"This kind of delight from people is why I do this," he says. "Balloon flight is such a freeing and delightful experience."

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