By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

This weekend downtown Jonesborough will feature not only the fourth annual Chocolate Fest and all the treats that accompany it, but an opportunity to see the festival from a bird’s eye view. Literally.

One of the 37 stops in this year’s Jonesborough Area Merchants and Service Association sponsored event will be the Jonesborough branch of the Washington County Library, which has arranged for a full size hot air balloon to offer tethered rides for $10 per person, weather permitting.

“I believe it goes up about 60 to 80 feet,” Lollipop Shop owner Jeff Gurley shared recently.

“So it should give a truly spectacular view of downtown Jonesborough, especially over Valentine’s Day weekend and Chocolate Fest.

Gurley coordinated the balloon for the event, and also has some hot air balloon experience.

“I’ve been up in a hot air balloon twice and it truly is the most peaceful setting there is. It’s quiet, you’re up in the air, there’s no engine like a helicopter or an airplane, and there’s three to five people around you, not 200 people like an airplane. It’s just very, very peaceful.”

For those with a fear of heights, library manager Christy Widner said there would be other offerings on hand.

“Our ‘Friends of the Library’ group is doing this book sale (Love & Chocolate: Romance and Cookbook Book Sale) in conjunction with the Chocolate Fest. We’re making chocolate covered pretzels.

“We’re having a couple other things for our patrons. ‘Blind Date with a Book’ is where the books are covered with wrapping paper and you just get a little blurb on the outside of what it’s about, sort of like an online dating service type of blurb and you can check those books out.

“And there are things you can do to enter for a chance to win a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card. (The gift card giveaway) is also at our sister location in Gray. Of course every year we have a candy count. We have a jar full of M&Ms and whomever guesses the closest wins the jar.”

Widner said she hoped that the attractions would help increase interest in the library.

“This is our way of trying to connect with the business community and to get more people interested in the library, in general.”

Washington County Public Library Director Richard Griffin added, “It helps increase the awareness of the library. People forget about us sometimes, they pay for us with their tax dollars but they don’t always make use of us.

“This is our fourth year working with JAMSA. We’ve worked with them also on other projects, but the Chocolate Fest has been pretty big. It helps us because we’re really trying to be part of the community and it gets people into the library so they know we’re here. Hopefully, we’ll get some library cards signed up.

“We have heat, sometimes we have a movie going for the kids if they get tired of walking around, and we have bathrooms and things like that. This is a nice little pit stop for a lot of the folks.”

However the main draw, most likely, will be visible to those driving into downtown Jonesborough for the festival.

According to Gurley, an additional bonus for prospective balloon riders is the opportunity to float over downtown Jonesborough.

“It’s pretty uncommon that the fact that because of the underground utilities that we can even have a hot air balloon in a downtown setting. Typically it’s open farmlands. So this is kind of a one of a kind event that we’ll have.”

While the balloon rides are subject to perfect weather, at this early point in the week the weekend forecast, Gurley said, looked very promising. But he added, “Winds must be below six miles per hour with no rain or moisture. Basically if you see the flags blowing as you come into town, that’s about five miles per hour.”

The Lollipop Shop proprietor added that no tickets would be sold for balloon rides, and a ‘first come, first serve’ style will determine the passenger list. Within a two-and-a-half hour time frame, Gurley said he hoped 80 to 100 people would get the unique experience, with each “load” holding up to a 600-pound weight limit.   

“Each year Chocolate Fest has grown so we wanted to add something different, something fun and something affordable. The balloon in that setting offers a gateway to people as they come into Jonesborough to let them know that there is something going on. It’s a great event to do something outdoors in the middle of winter that is fun for all ages.”