Great Forest Park Balloon Glow and Race

Rising High: St Louis’ Balloon Race

Tuesday September 8, 2015

By Explore St. Louis Guest

Keep an eye on the sky around Forest Park the weekend of September 18 - the weekend of the Great Forest Park Balloon Race. One of St. Louis’ oldest festivals whose event roots date to the city’s first big race in 1907, the James Gordon Bennett Cup International Balloon Race, which was held in America for the first time in St. Louis.

Back in 1907 the race was “the “ event to attend and enthusiasm continued until the race was discontinued in spite of the fact St Louis’ fascination with balloons and balloon racing never waned. It was that interest that served as the catalyst in 1973 to bring the a event back as the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, thanks to Nikki Caplan and John O’Toole, renowned balloonists who established the race, which was followed by balloonists John Marlow, John Schaumburg, Dan Schettler and Ted Staley in 1977.

The team has successfully grown the Great Forest Park Balloon Race to become one of the most successful ballooning events in the country, drawing over 150,000 and is hailed as the most well-attended, single-day balloon race in the U.S.

This year will again promises to draw tens of thousands of balloon enthusiasts and the curious to Forest Park to watch 70 balloons take flight over the city during the 43rd annual race. Among those piloting one of this year’s balloons is Stan Hess, pilot for the Wicked balloon, the official balloon of the musical, which returns for a holiday run at the Fox Theatre this December. Hess, who could be considered the balloon’s Wizard, reports flying the Wicked balloon an honor and looks forwards to brining the balloon to Forest Park for fans of both the musical and ballooning to enjoy.

“I love this balloon and so do the crowds,” said Hess who has participated in such high profile races as the Trans Australian Balloon Challenge, a 16-day hot air trek from Perth to Sydney in addition to ballooning over Japan, Hawaii, Canada, Switzerland and France. “ I consider it an honor to pilot this balloon in the race. And people love Wicked– after all it was a balloon that took the wizard to OZ.”

The Great Forest Park Balloon Race weekend kicks-off on Friday September 18 at 7 p.m. with its signature Balloon Glow; one of Hess’ favorite events where pilots light the balloons on the launch field (Forest Park’s Central Field located east of The Muny). It’s the ultimate party in the park, complete with food, entertainment and the opportunity to get a close-up look at the balloons and to meet the pilots. The night concludes with a firework finale at 9:15pm. Saturday festivities continue at noon with the race beginning with the launch of the Hare and Hounds (aka the balloons) at 4:30 p.m.

Admission to the Forest Park Balloon Race is free. For more information on the race visit

Guest Blogger Suzanne Corbett contributed to this blog.