CHATHAM – The St. Martin's Masonic Lodge, which has sold balloons at the July 4 parade and Friday night Chatham band concerts for the past seven years, won't be continuing balloon sales this summer.
The decision comes after town meeting voted in May to ban the sale of balloons inflated with lighter-than-air gas. Even though the ban does not go into effect until Sept. 15, the Lodge won't be selling balloons at Friday's opening band concert or next Wednesday's parade.
“It's not the time for a battle,” said lodge past master William Benoit, who helped run the balloon sales.
Voters supported the bylaw to ban balloon sales 236 to 160, with backers pointing to the ecological impact of the improper release and disposal of balloons, which end up littering both land and marine environments and harming wildlife. The measure prohibits the sale of balloons inflated with lighter-than-air gas as well as their release and improper disposal.
Before the Masons began selling balloons, the local chapter of the American Field Service (AFS) sold them for nearly 40 years. The Masons sold bio-degradable balloons fastened with string which they often tied around children's wrists to prevent them from being released.
Benoit said ending the sales is bittersweet.
“It's been a great experience,” he said, adding that members of the Lodge and their families who sold the balloons met people from all over the world, many returning annually for the summertime tradition. But while the decision was difficult, the group wanted to respect the town vote to do away with balloon sales.
While the Masons have no immediate plans to replace the balloons with the sale of other items, they're leaving their options open, Benoit said.
“We're going to try to find creative ways to try and raise money to help support our charitable endeavors,” he said.