Come May, hot-air balloons will replace golf balls as the flying objects at Turf Valley Resort.
This year - for the first time - Howard County will be included in the annual Preakness Balloon Fest. Promoters promise that the additional venue will offer an alternative to the traffic headaches associated with one of the event's other sites, Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
"I've had people who have told me that they always wanted to go downtown but didn't want to fight the traffic," said Regina Ford, director of public relations for Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City. "Now we will have it in our own backyard."
The Preakness Balloon Fest has been held since the 1980s, according to Laura Clark, event coordinator of the Maryland Preakness Celebration Inc. The group stages a series of activities in the week leading up to the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, which is May 19 at Pimlico Race Course.
"The balloons have always been an attractive event," said Clark, of Ellicott City. "We wanted to give it more visibility. Turf Valley has really turned it into a festival. It is a big event in itself."
The Turf Valley event is slated for May 16 and 17 and will feature vendors and activities for the family. A "Pee Wee Preakness" will offer child-friendly crafts, games and competitions.
Organizers have scheduled a balloon glow for May 16 in which tethered balloons are lighted at dusk to illuminate the sky. Weather permitting, the balloons will be launched the morning of May 17.
Visitors will have the opportunity to board tethered balloons. Although the admission to the event and parking is free, the balloon-boarding activity costs $8 for children and $15 for adults.
Terrace on the Green Clubhouse and Alexandra's Restaurant will offer specialty Preakness drinks in the Balloon Fest areas.
The resort is also offering "Off to a Flying Start," a $244 two-person entertainment package that includes a one-night stay at the resort, dinner at Alexandra's Restaurant and tickets and transportation to the Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico on May 17.
"I think balloons are just as romantic as you can get," Ford said. "Just the visual aspect." Organizers expect 2,000 to 3,000 people will attend the Turf Valley event.
To attract visitors, some balloons will be placed at the resort's original golf course, visible from U.S. 40 and Interstate 70.
The rest of balloons will be on the resort's driving range.
"It is a natural amphitheater area," Ford said. "It will be perfect for this."
As in past years, balloons will be at Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville and the Inner Harbor.
On May 17, 18 and 19, the balloons will launch from Oregon Ridge Park. On May 18, the Inner Harbor's Rash Field will be the site for a balloon glow and a fireworks display.
By adding the Howard County venue, "Turf Valley is giving [the Preakness Balloon Fest] the opportunity to grow," Clark said.