By MIKE NORTON No sooner did I arrive in my office this morning, but I looked out the window and saw an enormous hot-air balloon being filled at the Open Space Park on West Grand Traverse Bay. What an amazing sight! The balloon flight was part of the filming for Traverse City's new "Pure Michigan" commercial, which will air nationally later this month (keep an eye out for it!) but it reminded me that I haven't yet mentioned the upcoming Grand Traverse Balloon Classic, which will be held here June 17-19. As many as 25 big balloons will be participating in the festival, which is the first of its kind here in many years. Our weather is a little more frisky than many other favorite ballooning locations, but if we have the right conditions (light winds, good visibility, and no precipitation) it should be huge fun. If prevailing winds are out of north, the balloons will be launched at the Open Space; if they're out of the south, the site will probably be at the Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel In Williamsburg. The smartest thing is to check out the web site at Grand Traverse Balloon two hours before launch to see what's going on. The festivities begin Friday evening around 7:30 with a "group fly- out" followed by a "balloon glow" around 9:30 where the balloons are illuminated after dark by their burners. This should happen at both the Open Space and Turtle Creek, though there'll likely be more balloons glowing at the casino, since it's a larger space. On Saturday, there'll be a sunrise balloon launch around 6 am, with as many as 25 balloons launching. Then, in the evening, there'll be a 9:30 balloon glow at the Open Space and Turtle Creek. Sunday's big event will be another 6 a.m. sunrise flight. All balloon events open to the public, free of charge.
Monday's Balloon Ascent at the Open Space
Speaking of thrills - and this one for a great cause - this coming Saturday (June 11) the folks at Traverse City's Great Wolf Lodge will join their colleagues at 10 other Great Wolf Lodge resorts across the U.S. and Canada for the second annual World's Largest Waterslide-athon to raise a combined $250,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters - double the amount raised during last year's inaugural event! In addition to other fundraising efforts, for every guest who slides on the designated waterslide that day, Great Wolf Lodge will donate $1 to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan. Last year, the waterpark resorts raised more than $125,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters, in addition to setting a Guinness World Record for "longest distance water sliding in 24 hours in multiple venues" - with more than 45,000 Great Wolf Lodge guests sliding a total of more than 3,500 miles. The increased funding will allow Big Brothers Big Sisters, the nation's largest donor-funded network of volunteer mentors, to carefully make more mentoring matches and provide ongoing support to the volunteers, mentees and their families to help sustain the long-term, successful relationships unique to its programs. While the daytime event is for guests only, the general public is invited to join in the fun beginning at 9 p.m. for "Waterpark in the Dark." This afterhours event will allow families to buy special wristbands, then enjoy the waterpark until midnight to help wrap up the waterslide-athon. All proceeds from Waterpark in the Dark will help Great Wolf Lodge reach that $250,000 donation goal to Big Brothers Big Sisters. Great Wolf Lodge also has a way for everyone to slide along from home. For anyone who would like to participate but can't attend, they can enjoy the virtual waterslide-athon on the Great Wolf Lodge Facebook page. Visitors to the site can "slide," then make a donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters. The virtual waterslide-athon will be live from now through June 11.