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Idaho's Conservation Experiment: 50 Years Later explores the history and future of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

How Boise's Balloon Rally Could Revive The Sport

Forty hot air balloons floated up over Idaho's capitol city Thursday as part of  the Spirit of Boise Balloon Rally. It's going on through September 2. There used to be a lot more balloons when the River Festival happened years ago with nearly 100 balloons. Turns out there's been a decline in this sport.

The sun is barely on the horizon on this Saturday morning as a small crowd gathers at the fair grounds in Boise. They stare up at a little black balloon that’s quickly becoming a dot in the sky.

Hot air balloon pilots do this every morning before flying to watch wind patterns. Once they’re confident in the weather, they begin inflating a much bigger balloon.

Once the burners go on, the whole crew keeps the balloon on the ground as pilots and passengers hop into the whicker basket, and float into the air.

The 40 balloons at this year's Rally are low, compared to twenty years ago. Scott Spencer, who’s flown balloons for over 40 years, says many pilots are retiring.

“We woke up one morning and all of the sudden, our numbers were shrinking,” Spencer says.

It’s expensive to have a hot air balloon and Spencer says the economy doesn’t help. He compares a balloon to an RV or a boat - the first things to go when money is tight.

He says now, there are less than 15 active balloons in Boise. Many pilots will come to the balloon rally from out of state.

Bryce Boehler is one of the youngest student balloon pilots, at 27 years old. He started working on a crew as a kid.

“I rode my bike down to crew at the balloon rally and got put with greg Sumanski and he needed a passenger so told me to hop in and they put my bike in the truck and off we went,” Boehler says. “I’ve been hooked ever sense.”

Now Boehler’s about five hours away from his pilot’s license, and Spencer says Bohler’s seen as the hope for the future.

“Bryce is a real good kid, he’s enthusiastic, he’s very mindful, he’s the kind of kid that makes good decisions and he loves balloons so he would be a candidate for making sure ballooning continues,” Spencer says.

Boehler says he’s alone in his interest to fly hot air balloons.

“It’s kinda cool, but it’s also kind of depressing because all these people I’m growing up or I’ve gotten to know in the past, they’re not going to be able to do it for very much longer,” Boehler says.

For the first time, the rally will offer five hot air balloon lessons to aviation pilots, letting them navigate the balloon and land it. Spencer hopes this will help people discover ballooning again.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio