Ask Valerie Govig what it is about kites that enchants a surprising number of adults, and she has an elegantly ambiguous answer: "I like to say that kites are only superficially trivial."
But she does go on.
"To me, it's just obvious. There's so much more to it, the artistic and the technical, it's such an involving pastime," she says. "It cuts you off from all your cares."
Ms. Govig, editor of the internationally circulated Kite Lines magazine (published from her Randallstown home), is a longtime enthusiast who invites people to visit today's 25th annual Maryland Kite Festival -- and to learn for themselves that kites are not just toys for youngsters.
The event, sponsored by the Maryland Kite Society and open to kite fliers and spectators of all ages, is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hammerman Area of Gunpowder State Park, near Chase in eastern Baltimore County. The park charges a $5 vehicle admission fee, but the festival is free. (For information, call 922-1212. In case of rain, the festival will be held tomorrow.)
Ms. Govig says the festival offers "a non-competitive day of family fun," and begins with a free kite making and flying workshop for kids, from 10 a.m. to noon. Other events for youngsters include an altitude sprint (a footrace while flying a kite) and candy and egg drops, in which kids scramble to catch these items dropped from a high-flying kite. (The eggs are raw!)
Throughout the day, the sky will be full of a wide variety of colorful and elaborate kites flown in demonstrations. They range from fast and maneuverable stunt kites to elaborate modern versions of the six-sided, centuries-old Rokkaku battle kite of Japan, which is enjoying a reincarnation within kite circles.
What Ms. Govig calls "an informal inventory of kites" will be taking the place of some previously held contest events, in hopes of getting away from the competitive nature of many kite festivals. Anyone who wishes to participate may sign up to fly a kite and be introduced over the public address system, and the intent is to highlight the wide variety of these most ancient of flying machines.
Maryland's festival, says Ms. Govig, is among the oldest organized kite flying events in the nation, although its location has moved around the area.
It was launched -- with Ms. Govig and her husband, Mel, among the founders -- in 1967 at Campfield Elementary School in Woodlawn, and was held there for eight years. Other locations have included the Inner Harbor and Fort McHenry, Montgomery Village near Gaithersburg and Centennial Park in Ellicott City (site of last year's event).
"We think we're home now," says Ms. Govig. The society hopes to make the Gunpowder park a permanent location that will help establish an annual rite of spring to attract a large number of spectators.
On the banks of the Gunpowder River, the park has the two essentials for kite flying: a wide expanse of open space and a pretty reliable wind. The festival was first held there in 1989, but suffered from a cold,rainy day.
Noted kite fliers and makers from around the area are expected to be on hand, says Ms. Govig, including Jon Burkhardt of Potomac, Bruce Kennington of Clarksville and Bill Tyrell of southern Pennsylvania.
The festival will also offer ample information for people interested in getting further into kiting. For readers who cannot make the event, here are some resources:
The Kite Loft in Harborplace (phone: 528-0888) is the Baltimore area's only kite specialty shop, and also has an outlet in Ocean City. Kites can also be found at toy stores, outdoors outfitting stores (such as Hudson Trails and EMS outlets) and hobby shops.
Many enthusiasts also order kites by mail, through several popular catalog companies. The Kite Loft offers a catalog, and a couple other good outlets include:
Kitty Hawk Kites, P.O. Box 1839, Nags Head, N.C. 27959; (800) 334-4777.
Into the Wind, 1408 Pearl St., Boulder, Colo. 80302; (303) 449-5356.
Reading about kites:
At least two magazines are devoted to the wide range of kite flying activities:
Kite Lines, a quarterly, is published here for a yearly subscription of $14. P.O. Box 466, Randallstown, Md. 21133; 922-1212; fax, 922-4262. In addition to the slick publication, Kite Lines offers an extensive mail order service for kite books from around the world, as well as back issues and reprints of popular articles.
American Kite, also quarterly ($10 annual). 480 Clementina St., San Francisco, Calif. 94103; (415) 896-0830.
Talking about and flying kites:
The Maryland Kite Society is an organization of about 100 members from Maryland and surrounding states, and sponsors events and workshops. The current president is Jon Burkhardt, 10113 Lloyd Road, Potomac, Md. 20854; (301) 424-6976.