Hot Air Balloon Rises Over Lubec

By Ralph Ackley, Jr.

Sunkiss Ballooning lands a red, orange and yellow checkered balloon on the soccer field in Lubec last weekend for tethered rides over the school. (Photo submitted by Ralph Ackley).

With practically a lifetime of experience in ballooning, Todd Monahan says it was “only natural” for he and his twin brother Scott to “follow their passion” and begin a business taking interested parties up over the Adirondack Mountains and the rolling farmlands of Upstate New York as well as the beautiful countryside of Vermont. Todd and his brother employ several operators who have a “generation of ballooning experience”. As principal owner and operator of Sunkiss Ballooning, the brothers jumped at the chance to bring the business to coast of Maine. Though they had been hired to take their balloons into the Canadian provinces once before, they had never been down east so their ears piqued with curiosity when Dan Wagner of the Lubec Lion’s Club called to ask if they would be willing to come to Lubec.

It was a great marriage over this past weekend between a thrill seeking business and a non-profit, community-minded organization as together they offered interested  folks tethered balloon rides for $25 per person.  Part way through the three-day event that began Friday evening, there were over 30 participants ranging from locals and “out-of- towners” to a smattering of tourists.  Interest was spreading fast with lines of children and adults lined up along the fence near the school.

For some time now, District 41 Lubec Lion’s Club has been working on raising funds for a special, digital camera that tests children’s eyes for vision impairment. The complex photographic machine, called a Spot camera, is the brainchild of David Melnik, CEO of PediaVision who believes his device offers an important and significant advantage over the old fashioned way of testing.  It is infinitely more accurate than the simplistic, ‘read the chart’ patch covering exam that has been done for the last 150 years. Patients sit down and look into the front of the device and try to focus on the blinking red, amber and blue lights as an auditory cue, a “chirping bird” sound, holds the child’s attention while pictures are taken of their eyes with an infrared light in no less than a few seconds.  Seven vision disorders can be detected by using the Spot technology including nearsightedness, far sightedness and irregularly shaped corneas and lenses.   Some eye doctors have even made glasses based upon the amazing accuracy of the test results. 

Several Lion’s Clubs throughout the United States have successfully raised the necessary monies for this kind of important project.  Groups in both Central Texas and the Berkshires of Massachusetts have purchased the camera. The need in impoverished Washington County where funds to buy such an expensive piece of equipment is no less severe and so the members decided it would be a good idea to begin a campaign to raise the money for purchasing one.  

“Once we’ve purchased the camera, we will make it available free of charge to the surrounding schools.  We’ll start with Lubec, Whiting and Trescott and then expand into Machias.  A lot of the kids around here don’t go to an eye doctor and they don’t find out that they have an eye problem until they’re much older,” Lion’s Club member Debbie Holmes said as she kept her sight on the red, orange, and yellow checkered balloon tethered to the soccer field.  She held a growing size wad of cash and checks as more and more interested individuals and parties began to file onto the school grounds for a ride.

“It’s a good crowd tonight.  This morning was real slow.  They had to cut it short because once you come up to one hundred feet, winds begin to gust up, so they stopped them,”  Holmes shared.  

Referring to the balloon lighting the night before, Holmes added “It was beautiful! They left the balloon on the ground and when they set off the gas flames, it just lit that whole balloon up and it was beautiful!”

Plans were to offer more tethered rides on Sunday morning before crew chiefs, Dave and Rob White headed back to their base in Upstate New York, near Lake George.  Complete packages of the more expensive untethered balloon rides and other options can be found on their website at www.sunkissballooning.com

Those who were unable to be a part of this weekend’s balloon rides and would like to donate to the very worthy cause of helping screen children’s vision through the purchase of the amazing SPOT digital camera can contact the Lubec Lion’s Club members and officers by checking out their website at www.lubecme.lionwap.org.  A list of names and phone numbers as well as meeting times and places are available.