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Mayor Joe Jenkins and City Councilman Ron Last cut red, white and blue tether ribbons recently to launch the "Stars and Stripes" hot-air balloon as the official flagship for America's Freedom Festival at Provo.

The balloon will be a flying ambassador throughout the Mountain West area to remind people of the upcoming festivities at the festival, according to David A. McDougal, president of the three-week July Fourthcelebration.Wherever the balloon lands, its crew will hand out free postcards containing information about the Freedom Festival schedule, which includes more than 25 events.

"There are so many events this year and they are bigger and more solidified," Jenkins said. "This is really going to be a celebration this year.

"One thing that is happening will be two nights of fireworks. The Panorama on July 2 and the picnic in the park and fireworks on July 4," he said.

One of the most popular events of the festival is the Balloonfest, held throughout the July Fourth weekend. Beginning early each morning of the event, Utah Valley residents will have the opportunity to see 30 colorful balloons float over the festival's parade route and other event locations.

"It is more spectacular than the Grand Canyon when these balloons launch," Jenkins said. "With all the colors and the ambiance of the background setting, it is just beautiful."

The newest event to be added to the festival is the Freedom Festival Heritage International Triathlon, sponsored by Heritage Mountain Resorts. Nearly 1,200 triathletes are expected to make their way along a 40.6-mile course throughout Utah Valley in this event, which carries with it an $81,800 purse in prize money. Six of the world's top triathletes will be in Provo for the inaugural run.

Designated as Utah's State Championship by the Triathlon Federation, the Heritage International Triathlon is also an Iron Man Triathlon qualifier. This means that eight of the participants will be able to qualify for the Iron Man Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, later in the year.

The Heritage International Triathlon will get under way on the morning of July 4, with a 1.2-mile swim in Utah Lake, beginning at the Utah Lake State Park. The athletes will then participate in a 32-mile bike race that will take them on a course throughout central Utah Valley.

The final leg of the triathlon will be a 7.4-mile run that will take runners through the foothills of Provo and Orem and end up joining the parade route through downtown Provo.

For more information about the 1988 Heritage International Triathlon, call 756-5464 or 375-5155.