Great Bend’s Bikes, Bombers and Butterflies weekend once again proved having several events scheduled for the same weekend is more help than hindrance.
“Every event did awesome,” said Christina Hayes, Great Bend community coordinator. “All three BBB events had better than expected crowds, and Heartland raised $50,000, more than they ever have before.” The Alzheimer’s walk was also successful, she said.
Major events planned included: The Big Bend Bike Rally at the Great Bend Expo Complex; the Air fest at the Great Bend Municipal Airport; a butterfly tagging event at the Kansas Wetlands (center); a charity benefit auction for the Heartland Cancer Center; and a charity walk for the Alzheimer association. Other events included three class reunions, the Great Bend High School homecoming parade, game and dance, and a fireworks display Saturday night sponsored by the City of Great Bend.
“Based on the experience we had two years ago, I’d say we’ve probably doubled the (Air Fest) scope and attendance from what we had in 2010,” said Martin Miller, Great Bend Municipal Airport director.
Prior to the event, Miller anticipated 80 to 100 fly-ins, but according to Hayes, 147 pilots attended the event. Photos taken by John McCullagh, Commemorative Air Force pilot of the AK-47 “Spooky” one of the featured WWII planes at the event, show nearly twice as many planes on the ground compared to a similar photo of the 2010 event on display in Miller’s office. Six of those planes belonged to the CAF, and pilots offered rides to those willing to pay for a seat.
P-51 pilot Larry Lumpkin and his assistant, pilot Jeff Linebaugh, anticipated performing nine flights for $1,500 donations each. They instead nearly doubled that amount, taking 17 riders up for the flight of their lives. All proceeds go directly towards maintenance of the historic fleet of military aircraft.
On Friday, 650 area students attended Miller said.
“They stepped inside the AC-47 “Spooky” and they were briefed on every WWII aircraft there,” he said. “They were fascinated.”
Volunteers tracked attendance on Saturday and Sunday, but only counted adults. That count alone was 3,000 for Saturday, and 892 for Sunday. Friday’s count, including the 650 students, as just under 900, Hayes said. Event organizers had hoped for 5,000 over the course of the three days.
Great Lakes Airlines which operates out of the Great Bend Municipal Airport offered a door prize of two free round-trip tickets to Denver. The winner of the prize, valued at $1,250, was Mike Klepper and wife Nancy.
Special ceremony, fireworks
“I was personally very excited about having three P-51 Mustangs on the ramp for the same weekend,” Miller said. “I was very proud of their performance at the POW MIA ceremony.”
The three planes flew over the ceremony Saturday evening just as the National Anthem arrived at its crescendo, taking the breath away from attendees of this emotional event.
Leading up to the ceremony and during it, the parking areas around the airport filled with Great Bend residents arriving to watch the long-awaited fireworks which had been postponed for over two months. High fire danger throughout Barton County caused by continuing severe drought conditions compelled city and county governments to ban individual Fourth of July fireworks. Great Bend went a step further and postponed the public display, concerned that conditions were too risky.
The location picked for Saturday’s display provided a natural firebreak. With three intersecting airport runways surrounding the launch site, as well as additional firebreak measures taken by a neighboring farmer, the display went off without incident.
Boy Scouts helped direct traffic to free parking spaces at the airport prior to the display, which flowed relatively smoothly. However, for those who chose to leave after the finale, traffic leaving the venue was a little more cumbersome, with long lines and some confusion about which direction to turn as drivers reached the entrance to Fuller Brush Road.
Miller said they the committee will discuss ways to improve this aspect of the event, should the city decide to utilize the airport in the same way in the future.
According to the Big Bend Bike Rally facebook page, the fifth-annual event drew just under 1,900 people to see Bubba Blackwell the American Daredevil and the bluegrass band Split Lip Rayfield.
Crossover between the events included a parade ride of bikers from the Big Bend rally that ended at the Air Fest. At 1 p.m. Saturday, riders lined up at the Expo Complex and paraded through the city, led by the American Legion Riders. The ride ended at the airport, in time for a WW II battle reenactment at the Great Bend Air Fest.
Pilots from the CAF also flew over the rally, and both venues offered unparalleled views of the fireworks display.
Hotels did very well, with some pilots staying the whole week, and reunion attendees visiting over the weekend. Hayes said many people attended more than one event.
A look at zip codes collected from fly-in pilots and attendees at the air fest show people coming from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Washington State, Hayes said. There were several from Colorado and Kansas City, as well as the south central Kansas area including Wichita, Hutchinson, Lindsborg, Ellsworth, and local area communities.