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Since You Asked: Where have all the balloons gone?

For several years I’ve enjoyed watching hot air balloons drifting across the valley in the early-morning hours, typically in July. I haven’t seen them in several years and have also noticed that there is no longer a hot air balloon rally in our area. What happened?

— Jen P., Medford

Jen, you’re one of a handful of people who are up early enough on weekend mornings to see and appreciate the bright balloons that pepper the skyline.

It's sad, but there are fewer than five active hot air balloon pilots in the area. One of them lives and flies in Ashland and one in Grants Pass — both out of eyesight for Medfordites. Other balloon pilots have retired, leaving only local pilots Drew Brown of Medford and Larry Sprague of Central Point to navigate the Medford-area skies at dawn.

"If you look out at the sky early on a Saturday or Sunday, you might see one of us up there," said Brown, who has been piloting hot air balloons since 2006.

Sprague, who owns a 105,000-cubic-foot balloon, said he averages about 10 rides a year, fewer if the smoke is bad, which it is now thanks to the Oregon Gulch fire.

For 17 years, pilots from all over Oregon, as well as Washington, California and Idaho, would travel to the area for a weekend in July to participate in the annual Rogue Valley Balloon Rally, a benefit for the Children’s Miracle Network. The last rally was held in 2010. Since then, there haven’t been enough people willing to organize the event.

"It was talked about again this year, but that is as far as it went," Brown said.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.