Flying festival returns without school

Andrew
Andrew Wagstaff
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Annual paragliding, hang-gliding weekend set for May 16-19

DILIGENT RIVER – Paragliding and hang gliding pilots from around the Maritimes and beyond will converge on this area during the May 16-19 long weekend, as the 20th annual Festival of Free Flight takes place.

Pilots take to the skies during last year’s Festival of Free Flight. This year’s event, which will be the 20th annual festival, will take place over the May 16-19 long weekend.

Traditionally co-sponsored by the Pegasus Paragliding school and the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Atlantic Canada (HPAAC), this year’s event will for the first time be put on by the association alone, as the school has ceased operations after nearly 20 years.

“It feels a little different without the identity of Pegasus around,” said Michael Fuller, president of HPAAC and former owner/operator of the school. “It’s different for everybody.”

What started as a “fly-in” weekend for pilots to gather and share stories, technical tips and fellowship, developed over the years into a festival geared to grow the sport by attracting spectators and introducing the activity to those who wanted to try it out.

Those potential new pilots had a paragliding school at which they could learn the sport. However, Fuller sold the business last year, and it has since shut down. Therefore, promoting the festival to the public does not have the same benefits, at least for the time being.

“If there’s no school left in the Maritimes that’s going to teach paragliding, then that element of (the festival) loses its momentum,” he said. “In a way, it’s almost unfair to publicize it too much, because nobody can follow up on it unless they go to Ontario or Quebec to take lessons.”

The association is working on attracting someone to the region to fill that void, either by starting a new business or picking up the remnants of Pegasus, which Fuller said is a great opportunity for anyone interested.

“There is a lot of goodwill and support in this area for a school, which is invaluable in many ways,” he said. “So we don’t want to let too much time go by before we find somebody to offer that service.”

Meanwhile, this year’s festival will be more like the original fly-in, although Scott Newman of the Maritime Hang Gliding Academy will once again be on hand, creating a link to that sport through his Sussex, N.B.-area school.

The 25-30 participating pilots this year will fly on a schedule similar to other festivals in recent years, with Saturday and Sunday focused on sites in the immediate Parrsboro area – conditions permitting – while Friday and Monday will see them visit sites further afield such as Advocate or the Wentworth Valley. A white board will be posted at festival headquarters, which will be found at Black Rock Bistro on Main Street in Parrsboro, while its online headquarters will be atwww.hpaac.ca and also at the HPAAC Facebook page.

Organizations: HPAAC, Pegasus Paragliding school, Gliding and Paragliding Association of Atlantic Canada N.B.-area school

Geographic location: Parrsboro, Ontario, Quebec Sussex Wentworth Valley

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