By Bob Jackson
Kites ranged from very high to very low in price and covered every color of the rainbow.
CANFIELD — A huge green frog flew over the grounds of the Mill Creek MetroParks Farm on Saturday. So did several sharks, a lobster, an octopus, a dragon and a very large puppy.
They were but a few of the hundreds of kites that were flown during the park district’s kite festival.
Ginny Elser, assistant director of recreation, estimated there were between 1,200 and 1,500 visitors Saturday. Most of them had come to fly a kite, but some came just to stand and watch the spectacles in the sky.
“It’s a slightly smaller crowd than we usually get,” Elser said, noting that dark, threatening clouds probably discouraged some people from attending. In past years, the kite festival has drawn as many of 2,700 people, Elser said. But for those who decided to take the chance Saturday, the weather was perfect for getting their kites high into the sky.
“It’s a huge amount of fun,” said kite enthusiast Bob Patterson of Beaver, Pa. “It’s a hellacious workout on a day like today, but it’s a great way to unwind.”
Patterson, who goes by the nickname Computer Bob, is affiliated with Fly Pittsburgh, one of two groups of professional kite fliers at Saturday’s event. The other was the Ohio Society for the Elevation of Kites.
He said serious fliers can spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars, for a kite designed to do all sorts of tricks and stunt flying. There are even ultra-light kites that can be flown indoors without wind.
“It’s all in what you want to spend and the kind of kite you need to fly for the conditions where you live,” Patterson said. Most people fly a standard kite with a single line attached to it, but some fly kites with two and four lines, which give added control for maneuverability.
“I’ve got a quad-line kite that acts just like it has brakes,” Patterson said. “I can make it stop in mid-air ... just park it and hold it in one spot.” Kites like that can be bought for between $100 and $250, Patterson said.
“That will get you a good, solid kite that will probably last you for about 10 years,” he said.
But you don’t necessarily have to spend that much money on a kite, nor do you need to be a professional flier. Many of those who participated in Saturday’s event were simply people who saw a good chance to spend time with their family and get a bargain kite in the air on a windy day.
Gary Warino of Austintown was among the many adults who came out to fly a kite with their children or grandchildren. He brought his 5-year-old daughter, Rachael, who was trying to launch a kite for the very first time.
“It sounded interesting when I heard about it,” Warino said of the kite festival. “Then I remembered seeing something like this about three years ago on a beach in Ocean City, and I thought we might as well give it a shot ourselves.”
“I bought my kite at Dollar General. The cheapest one I could find,” said 13-year-old Jason Dunkle of Yougnstown as he watched his triangular kite soar some 700 feet above the ground. “I’d have gotten it higher, but my string got tangled up.”
The heavy, gusting winds eventually caused the string on Dunkle’s kite to break, and his kite landed somewhere across state Route 46 at the Canfield Fairgrounds.
Still, Dunkle said he enjoys getting out to fly kites once or twice a year because he finds it relaxing.
That’s what draws 35-year-old Mike Miller and his 57-year-old father, Louis Miller, both of Youngstown, to kite-flying as a hobby.
“My dad used to take me out to fly kites when I was a kid,” Mike said. “When we heard about this event, we wanted to come. My dad had heart surgery earlier this year and that was tough, so we’ve really been looking forward to this. We wanted to come here and fly our kites together. It’s a special year for us.”
Mike bought his first kite as an adult about three years ago, and his father bought one about a year ago. They started with smaller ones and worked their way up to handling larger ones that are tougher to control.
“I have 1,000 feet of line here on my spool, but there’s no way I’m going to let it go all the way out,” Mike said, laughing as he struggled to hold his kite steady. “It’s too windy today. I’d kill myself trying to pull it back in.”
The two enjoy their new hobby so well that Louis’ wife, Shirley, plans to buy a kite and join in the fun.
“I’m going to get a butterfly,” she said. “A 7-footer.”
Elser said the kite festival started in 1991 and was originally held at the park’s Wick Recreational Area.
“But we found that the winds there were just too gusty,” she said, explaining why the event was moved to the park district’s farm in Canfield eight years ago. “We’d see people get their kites up in the air and then just watch them fall hard to the ground. The winds here are generally more sustainable.”
She said the weather is always a variable when planning the event, which is held every two years.
“One year there was snow,” she said. “Another year it rained — a deluge of biblical proportions. We just deal with whatever we get.”
A rainy day, with lightning, would have been ideal for Kim Burin of Liberty Township, who attended Saturday’s event dressed as historical kite-flier Benjamin Franklin.
“Everybody knows that’s how I discovered electricity,” Burin/Franklin said. “And I always tell them it was a shocking experience.”