Why are there so many hot air balloons in Columbia?
Columbia was once a hot-spot of hot air ballooning. But you can still see a lot of balloonists flying over downtown on a clear afternoon.
Sometimes at CoMo Explained we pose a question that doesn't have a nice, easy answer. We do our best to explain this city but we understand that sometimes--often--the city is not entirely explainable.
This isn't one of those episodes.
From 1995-1997 the US National Hot Air Balloon Championship was held in Missouri. It's one of the main events in national ballooning (I never thought I'd write such a sentence) and it drew hundreds of thousands of visitors to Missouri.
This was around the time that Gary Sines decided to move to Columbia. He wanted to help grow the ballooning community in Columbia, so he threw a few events leading up to the national championship. In 1993 and 1994 he threw the "Show Me Balloon Classic" and after the nationals he ran the SU Cellular Balloon Classic from 1998-1999.
With nearly a decade of yearly ballooning events, awareness of the hobby reached its peak. Sines began to train new pilots and sell them balloons. Now the pilot community runs at about 16--a pretty high number for a town this size.
Sines' company, Balloon Stormers is mostly run by himself and his wife Janice. If you ever have the opportunity to see a group of balloons lazily tracking over downtown, know that that's probably Gary Sines up there, his wife, and a handful of their friends.
Update: Sometimes we post our shows on /r/columbiamo, a part of Reddit dedicated to links about CoMo. One user (a listener, perhaps?) sent us this rad pic of a hot air balloon landing on a what we think is Grindstone Parkway: