Hang glider and paraglider organizations secure a PUD agreement to use Chelan Falls Park as a landing zone by Richard Uhlhorn

Hang gliding and paragliding pilots will be able to fly Chelan Air in 2017 and beyond with the knowledge that the Chelan Falls Park landing zone is once again a designated landing zone.

Hang gliding and paragliding groups were notified by email on Monday, February 13, by Chelan County PUD that the agreement for the use of Chelan Falls Park as a primary landing zone for free flyers was effective as of Friday, February 10, 2017.

The flying contingent was notified last year that the park was no longer to be used by hang gliders and paragliders as a primary landing zone; only as an emergency landing zone and for scheduled events.

A meeting with the PUD was set up by Rich Hass, USHGPA regional director, Lori Lawson, Chelan Flyers and Ron Barbera, president of Cloudbase Country Club. They were on hand to present information on the sport of hang gliding and paragliding and to go over the sports safety record with PUD parks managers.

That meeting was successful, and Jeff Smith, managing director of District services, told the hang gliding and paragliding representatives that the information shared with the PUD representatives was compelling. “I can’t make any promises, but we will see what we can do,” he said.

A hang glider pilot flys over Lake Chelan during the annual Classic Hang Gliding competition that takes place every July in Chelan.

Paraglider pilots come in for a landing at Chelan Falls Park. The park has been designated a landing zone for pilots flying Chelan Air.

A hang glider pilot seeks rising thermals above Chelan Butte during the annual Chelan Classic.

Paraglider pilots catch thermals off the south side of Chelan Butte during last year’s U.S. National Paragliding Championships.

More than 120 paragliding pilots came to Chelan to fly in the U.S. National Paragliding Championships.

That meeting has culminated in an agreement for the use of Chelan Falls Park as a landing zone for hang gliders and paragliders with the following requirements:

  • The permittees will pay an annual fee of $250 plus a 12.84% lease-hold tax.
  • The permittees will be required to develop and install an informational Kiosk at Chelan Falls Park that is approved by Chelan County PUD before installation.
  • Permittees will be required to provide new signage at the Chelan Butte launch area informing pilots of available landing sites and caution them that Chelan Falls Park is a multi-use park.
  • They will also be required to install a wind sock at Chelan Falls Park.
  • The Special Event will be required to be scheduled well in advance of the planned event.
  • Permittees will be required to attend an annual meeting with PUD staff to go over any issues.
  • Permittees will also be required to name the PUD as an additionally insured entity for $1 million dollars per incident.points east of Spokane.

Over the years, Chelan has become an internationally known location for pilots anxious to try its famous thermals that lift them off the Chelan Butte launch to cloud base around 10,000+ feet. From that elevation, the pilots can then fly long distances from Chelan to points east of Spokane.

This past summer during the U.S. National Paragliding Championship event, 65 pilots broke a competition record for miles flown and one pilot, Matt Hensi, not only made the goal, but kept on flying all the way to Wallace, Idaho which was 192 miles from launch.

Each year since the early 80s, the hang gliding groups have used Chelan as a base for a number of hang gliding events. World records for distance flown have been set here. The annual Lake Chelan Classic Hang Gliding Championships have been drawing participants from Canada, Mexico, and from around the United States with a few farther flung international pilots along for the ride.

Chelan became known as a hang gliding location back in the early 80s, but area was put on the world map in 1994 when Chelan hosted the Women’s World Hang Gliding Championships. Fifty-two female pilots from around the world descended on Chelan for the world championships.

In 1995, the paragliding contingent held its U.S. Nationals in Chelan. Included were paragliding pilots from Canada, Mexico, United States and a few from around the world.

In 2002 three world championships were flown in Chelan; the 8th Women’s World Hang Gliding Championships, the 1st Class V (Atos) World Hang Gliding Championship, and the 9th Class II (Swift) World Hang Gliding Championships. All three event took place at the same time. With France, the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, Austria, Russia, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Switzerland participating.

In 2017, both the Classic Hang Gliding competition and a U.S. National Paragliding event will take place in July bringing pilots back to Chelan to test their flying skills in that three-dimensional world between launch and 10,000 feet above sea level across the eastern Washington food basket that provides the thermals to keep these pilots in the air.

The agreement to allow free flyers the use of Chelan Falls Park is a major long-term lease on life for both hang glider and paraglider pilots to use Chelan Air as a place to use their skills in the air.

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Malcolm Keithley


Photos by Richard Uhlhorn

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