While hot air balloons traditionally have been restricted to the ambulatory, plans are under way to provide tethered hot air balloon rides to those with disabilities in Clallam County.
“They have never been able to walk, but they’ll be able to fly,” said Captain Crystal Stout.
Stout is working on launching the Dreamcatcher Balloon Program, which will provide hot air balloon rides via an ultralight hot air balloon with a special basket designed to carry wheelchairs. Dreamcatcher will provide people who have never been able to ride in a balloon due to their disabilities the chance to sail through the air.
The difference between a conventional hot air balloon and the Dreamcatcher program is the use of a new ultralight balloon developed in Switzerland by Paolo Bonanno. Stout is working with corporate sponsors and individuals to provide funding. Not only will this provide the $20,000 needed to bring the balloon to the U.S., it also will help make the operation free to the passengers.
Among the fundraising efforts, she is partnering with Applebee’s on 130 River Road for a pancake fundraiser from 8-10 a.m. Sunday, March 17. Tickets can be purchased for $10 from Julie Broadwell at 425-242-8246, Kelly Jo Hill at 461-3950 or at La Vina Cafe, 111 River Road, Sequim.
Stout and marketing director Hill are working to raise money to bring the balloon to Sequim in time for the Irrigation Festival in May, where it will make its maiden flight. But they say that donations don’t have to stop there.
They’re trying to make the program accessible to anyone with a disability. The balloon’s ultralight characteristics allow it to be transported and Stout hopes to soon make the service mobile. With a tether, they can offer rides in denser residential and urban areas.