Up to 20 brightly colored hot air balloons will light the night sky near Bloomington this September during the inaugural Kiwanis Club of South Central Indiana Hot Air Balloon Fest.

Events will take place September 6-8 at the Monroe County Fairgrounds, with proceeds going to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington, Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, and other Kiwanis Club projects benefiting children.

The festival has a number of activities “all rolled into one big event,” says Vanessa McClary, charter president of South Central Indiana (SCI) Kiwanis Club. Besides the balloon races, there will be a chili cook-off, musical performances, food vendors, fireworks, and more.

McClary organized the balloon fest with fellow Kiwanis member and Airbus Balloon Rides owner Andy Richardson. Oliver Winery is the premier sponsor.

Among the balloon shapes will be a penguin, shoe, scarecrow, dragon, and birthday cake. While those will be mainly for display, balloons of a more conventional shape will compete against one another four times throughout the festival.

Calling it a balloon race, Richardson explains, is “a little bit of a misnomer. With hot air balloons, it’s more about accuracy…. The ‘hare’ balloon takes off, and the ‘hound’ balloons follow it, trying to follow the wind currents.”

When the hare balloon lands, its pilot lays a brightly colored fabric “X” on the ground; as the trailing hounds land, they drop beanbags to mark their spots. The balloon closest to the “X” wins.

The races begin before sunrise (6:30 am Saturday and Sunday) and before sunset (5 pm Friday and Saturday), as “the winds are more stable and predictable in the early morning and late afternoon,” Richardson says.

On Friday and Saturday nights, all of the balloons will be tethered to the ground and inflated for a Night Glow. “The burners will light them up like pumpkins,” Richardson says, and the lighting will be synchronized with live music.

The SCI Kiwanis Club Children’s Health and Safety FUN! Fair, now in its seventh year, will also be part of the festival on Saturday. With more than 50 interactive booths, McClary says, the fair provides health screenings and education for families.

Tickets are $12 per carload at the gate. For a full schedule of events, visit their website.