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Weather makes this year's Hot Air Jubilee seem like autumn celebration
By Mark Thompson Kolar
July 18, 2009, 12:35AM

Mark Enszer of Saginaw sends a burst of flame from his hot air balloon basket on Friday night at Jackson's Hot Air Jubilee.As Al Smith sent a flame from his hot air balloon basket into the open sky Friday night, onlookers had something more to appreciate than its bright orange glow. "Oh, yeah," 7-year-old Michael Brown said, jumping in the air and drawing close to the warmth of the flame.

Chilly temperatures, blustery winds and scattered showers made the first night of Jackson's Hot Air Jubilee seem more like an autumn event than the midsummer celebration residents anticipate.

"We might have to melt some snowflakes here," Smith said.

Inclement weather conditions forced jubilee officials to cancel the key grab event Friday night. They do not plan to reschedule.

The night glow, which traditionally draws pilots together for a chance to show off the light from their balloons, took place only with open baskets. Pilots said the risk of damage to the balloon was too great with the grass wet from showers and the strong winds.

Despite the discouraging conditions, an upbeat atmosphere remained in the pilots' tent as the group gathered for one of the first weather briefings of the weekend.

Dave Emmert, a pilot from Battle Creek, said he had a pretty good idea before leaving home that Friday's flight wouldn't happen.

Like many other pilots, Emmert checks various Web sites that give weather conditions specific to ballooning. What he saw wasn't good.

"It's kind of a waiting game anyhow," he said. "Sometimes you know you are just going to have supper somewhere."

Though the balloons didn't make an official appearance Friday evening, the Scream 'N Rebels airshow offered enough excitement to keep a crowd gathered along the runway. Several families sat on blankets and in lawnchairs with heads turned toward the sky as the planes flipped and dove, leaving behind white trails of smoke.

"This is awesome," said Charlie Isham of Jackson.

Isham said his wife has long been a fan of the jubilee, but his work schedule prevented him from attending in previous years. He brought his 16-month-old daughter, Ellie, out, excited just to see the planes.

Nearby, several other families gathered under a tent that housed various exotic animals brought in by Premier Animal Attractions for the first time.

Rain poured outside, but 4-year-old Jacob McCallum was focused on the African Serval staring back at him.

Jacob's father, David McCallum, said his three children have been anxious for the jubilee all week. Staying home wasn't an option, even with bad weather.

Pilots are anticipating three remaining flights to see whether balloons make it to the sky. The jubilee schedule calls for flights at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. today.

"We're hoping for some little weather windows that open up during flight time," Smith said.

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Jackson-area families ignore weather, get a taste of fun on the farm
By Jackson Citizen Patriot staff
October 24, 2009, 10:54PM
Katie Rausch |

Skyler, 5, and her sister Anna Lyse Macomber , 6, pet a male Fennec Fox on Saturday at Meckley’s Flavor Fruit Farm in Cement City. The girls, who were spending the afternoon at the farm with their parents, were checking out some of the exotic animals Premier Animal Attractions, Inc. had brought for the day.
The weather might not have been ideal, but it didn't stop newly engaged Michael Cybulski and Lisa Newman from having a last bit of fall fun.

"We'll be out here, rain or shine," Cybulski said.

Cold temperatures and a little rain didn't deter other families, either. Several dozen made the trek Saturday to Meckley's Flavor Fruit Farm in Cement City.

By early afternoon, both storehouses were packed with people buying home-pressed cider, doughnuts and other fall treats. Outside, visitors roasted hot dogs over an open fire, and children pointed in awe at a lion cub, kangaroo and diminutive fox on display in a heated tent.

Ricky Macomber and his wife, Sarah, watched while his two daughters, Anna Lyse, 6, and Skyler, 5, fawned over the rare fox.

"They always have something different," Macomber said.

Meckley's often brings in attractions not found on other farms and orchards. Premier Animal Attractions Inc., a self-funded private zoo, provided the three unusual animals Saturday.

The Macombers once rode an elephant at Meckley's. This year, they had their picture taken with the 15-week-old African lion cub.

And building memories is what it's all about, said Steve Meckley, owner of Meckley's Flavor Fruit Farm.

Meckley took over from his father, who bought the 378-acre farm in 1956. He said seeing people enjoying his family's farm and its products makes the job worth it.

"It amazes me how entrenched we are in families' fall activities," He said. "We have people who've come here for four, five generations."

Meckley said the family atmosphere doesn't end with the visitors.

On Saturday afternoon, a crowd of customers watched while Meckley and a teenage employee poured apple mash onto a cider press.

Andrew Scoby, 17, was just getting the hang of pouring the mash in a square form so it would press the best. He's been working for Meckley for seven years.

"This is like my second home," Scoby said of the farm.

Scoby said he'd like to own his own orchard and bakery someday.

"I don't know, though," he said. "I don't want to take any business away from Steve."

Photos and story by Katie Rausch
Jackson Citizen Patriot