Spring in Traverse City: My Secret Season

After 30 years as a resident of Traverse City, writer Mike Norton has come to love all four seasons of the year in his adopted home. He freely admits that it took some time before he could properly appreciate the subtle beauty of a Northern Michigan spring—but now he’s an enthusiastic fan.

I may be one of the few people who arrived in Traverse City without having much of an idea how popular this place was in the summer months. I know better now.

But somehow it’s the other seasons of the year that have become especially precious to me  over the years, precisely because they’re not as well-publicized as summertime. That’s especially true of spring, which may be the loveliest time of year in the Traverse City area. Spring in these latitudes isn’t for sissies — it can be devilishly hard to predict when it will arrive or how long it will last. But I’ve lived through spring in a lot of nice places, and a proper Traverse City springtime is really just as good as it gets.

The summer crowds and heat haven’t arrived yet, and everyone seems to be wearing a mellow glow. I don’t know if it’s friendliness, or just gratitude that winter is finally over, but they seem genuinely glad to see you. People will stand in line for an hour to get a sundae at Bardon’s Wonder Freeze, the town’s iconic ice cream stand, mainly because they’re so busy chatting and getting reacquainted with each other that they don’t realize how long they’re standing there. 

I’m an incurable pedestrian, so most of my favorite experiences involve walking – and spring walks here are a feast, whether I’m ambling down a long deserted stretch of beach searching for Petoskey stones or hunting for morel mushrooms in a sun-dappled forest, listening to sudden bursts of birdsong from the branches overhead. 

Of course, there’s a lot of other stuff to do around here in spring.  It’s just that the season seems to bring a different kind of traveler to this land of dunes, lakes and forests. They’re looking for something special — a quiet retreat from the humdrum, a village shopping adventure, or a tasting tour of the beautiful wine country of the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas. (And it doesn’t hurt that in spring the enchantment of Traverse City is available at very reasonable prices.)

Here’s a little tip: between now and May 17, the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau is offering a special “Traverse City Escape” package that combines special rates at participating hotels and resorts with great deals at some of the area’s best restaurants and special discounts on shopping, spa services, movies, wine tastings and other entertainment.

So what would I recommend to my visiting friends? Well, on a single morning, you could enjoy one of the best meals you’ve ever had, amble through the shops and stores of a friendly, tree-shaded lakeport village like Suttons Bay or Elk Rapids, or cast your line into one of America’s most famous trout streams. You could paddle the shores of a forest lake, search for delectable morel mushrooms on the wooded hillsides, or just take a drive through the most gorgeous displays of spring wildflowers you’ll see anywhere.

With more than 150 inland lakes and hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan shoreline — including the majestic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, voted “Most Beautiful Place in America” last fall by viewers of Good Morning America –Traverse City offers almost limitless opportunities for boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. (And although the water’s still a little chilly for swimming, I’m constantly surprised how many good sunbathing days there can be in a Traverse City spring!)

Surrounding Traverse City are deep, fragrant forests crisscrossed with trails for hikers, horseback riders and cyclists, and more than 20 golf courses with some of the most striking configurations ever designed. This is Michigan’s “Golf Coast,” an area Golf Digest named #12 on its list of the World’s Top 50 Golf Destinations.

Even the farms here are surrounded by incredible scenery. Long known as the cherry capital of the world, Traverse City is also an increasingly famous wine-producing region, with over 30 wineries and tasting rooms offering tours and tastings of their award-winning vintages, and its many restaurants are creating a national reputation for their fresh, innovative regional cuisine. And spring is an excellent time to enjoy some of it before everybody else arrives!

Mike Norton, a native of Grand Rapids, spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations director at the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. An avid hiker and an enthusiastic (if rarely successful) mushroom-hunter, he lives in the village of Old Mission.

Pure Michigan May Events Roundup

May in Pure Michigan means springtime fun and sunny weather. From BBQs and outdoor festivals to Memorial Day celebrations, it’s a great time of year to enjoy our state’s many offerings. For more suggestions on things to do this May in Michigan, visit michigan.org.

East Central

Cinco de Mayo
May 4-5, 2012, Imlay City
The streets of Imlay City will be alive with Hispanic music, art, crafts, food and entertainment as we celebrate Cinco de Mayo. For more information call (810) 724-1361, or click here.

Mother’s Day at the Zoo
May 13, 2012, Saginaw
Free admission for Mom on her special day! Zoo open 10am-5pm. Regular admission, Members free. Train and carousel rides, $2 per person, per ride. For more information on this event, call (989) 759-1408, or click here.

Barks, Bikes & Balloons
May 26-27, 2012, Frankenmuth
We’re launching the Summer Season Memorial Weekend. Activities for the whole family. Frankenmuth River Place is hosting the Dog Bowl. Competitions for all dogs. Tour de Frankenmuth bicycle road race starts on Saturday, May 26th at 8am. A Bike Expo is planned. Hot Air Balloons will take flight on Saturday, May 26 6:30am. Competitive Hot Air Balloon launches and Balloon Glows are planned. Call for more information (800) FUN-TOWN.

Lexington Memorial Day Parade 2012
May 28, 2012, Lexington
Come to Lexington for the patriotic Memorial Day Parade 11 am. Follow the parade to Lexington’s Historic Cemetery where there is a brief ceremony and tours of the Moore Historic Chapel.

Memorial Day Parade
May 28, Midland
Come to Downtown Midland to remember our heroes and enjoy the Memorial Day parade, beginning at 10am. Start your day with a breakfast at a Downtown eatery and after the parade enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of our many restaurants. Shop, dine and play in Downtown Midland. For more information, call (989) 837-3330, or click here.


Mushroom Festival 2012
May 12, 2012, Lewiston
Come up to Lewiston for our annual Mother’s Day Mushroom Festival. Learn how to hunt for those tasty morel mushrooms and learn how to cook them in a variety of ways. This is a great way to spend Mother’s Day weekend. For more information call (989) 786-3160.

Tawas Point Birding Festival
May 17-20, 2012, East Tawas
Fellow bird lovers unite for this event held in cooperation with the Ausable Valley Audubon Society. This is your opportunity to see over 300 species of birds at a Nationally recognized Important Birding Area. There will be presentations from birding experts, demonstrations, and birding tours of Tawas Point, Kirtland’s Warbler habitat, Tuttle Marsh and Clarks Marsh. In addition you can climb the 70 foot tall Tawas Point lighthouse and get a bird’s eye view of Tawas Point. There is a $2 fee for touring the lighthouse. A Recreation Passport of $10 is your ticket to Michigan’s state parks and outdoor adventures! For more details contact the park at (989) 362-5041, or click here.

Mackinaw Memorial Bridge Race
May 26, 2012, Mackinaw City
Gear Up for an Active Summer with the Mackinac Bridge Memorial Weekend Race. One of the only times of year that runners are allowed to run the Mackinac Bridge will be this year on May 26. Runners must register in advance and be able to run a minimum of 12 minutes per mile to race in the event. For more information on this event visit the link or call (231) 436-5664.

Au Gres VFW Memorial Day Parade
May 27, 2012, Au Gres
Parade held Sunday, May 27, 2012, at 1pm right down US-23 in Au Gres. Parade entries wanted- call to sign up! Parade line up at 12:30pm behind Bopp-Busch, N Main Street, Au Gres. For more information call (989) 876-6397, or click here.


Mesick Mushroom Festival
May 11-13, 2012, Mesick
Mesick, the “morel mushroom capitol,” pulls out all the stops for the celebration including a grand parade, carnival, largest mushroom contest and more from May 11 – 13, 2012. For more details on our event, visit the link or call (231) 885-2679.

Morel Mushroom Festival 2012
May 17-20, 2012, Boyne City
This fun-filled festival is the ultimate signal that spring is here…carnival, mushroom hunting, cooking demonstrations and lots of morels! Come share in the fun and bring your appetite. Call the Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce for details at (231) 582-6222, or click here.

Empire Asparagus Festival
May 18-20, 2012, Empire
The lakeshore village of Empire greets the arrival of asparagus season with good food, wine & beer. Dancing & an annual oral poetry contest for the best “Ode to Asparagus.” For more information click on the web site link or call (231) 326-6081.

Harrison’s Memorial Weekend Events
May 26-27, 2012, Harrison
Saturday, May 26th, Car Cruise around Harrison and Budd Lake. Line-up is at 4pm at Hayes Township Hall. Afterwards; muddy mayhem at the Memorial Weekend Mud Bog at the Clare County Fairgrounds. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids 10 and under. The event begins at 7pm. On Sunday the 27th, Car & Bike Show in downtown Harrison. $10 registration; goody bags to first 75 registered. Registration available before by calling (989) 539-6011; or register day of event at 8am. Craft vendors will be on-site at the event. For more information, call (989) 539-6011.


Jonesville River Fest – 2012
May 18-20, 2012, Jonesville
This festival is always held on the 3rd weekend in May in downtown Jonesville. Come join us for canoe races, a car show, music, food, and lots of fun. For more information, visit the website link or call us at (517) 320-1403.

Great Lakes Wine Fest
May 19, 2012
An annual event between Michigan International Speedway (MIS) and the Michigan Wine Foundation. The event will feature the tastes and toasts of Michigan wineries, breweries and eateries in a unique setting – a NASCAR racetrack. Guests may sample wines, beer and food from Michigan vendors and buy favorite wines by the bottle or case. Live entertainment throughout the weekend will also be featured. Advance tickets are $25. Tickets at the gate are $35. Gates open at noon and close at 9pm. This event is for guests 21 years and older. For more information call (800) 354-1010, or click here.

Romeo Victorian Festival
May 19, 2012, Romeo
On Saturday, May 19, from 9am to 6pm, the historic village of Romeo will host their Seventh Annual Victorian Festival. Events include ice cream making, Civil War reenactment camp, Victorian style children’s games and entertainment. For more information call (586) 752-4111, or click here.

Sumpter Country Festival
May 24-28, 2012, Belleville
The Sumpter Country Fest includes a carnival, beer tent, casino, bingo, free children’s entertainment, crafts, food, demolition derby, enduro racing, fireworks, live music, Impersonators/tribute bands, & much much more!!! Sumpter Township (Belleville, MI). For more information call (734) 461-6201.


Blossomtime Festival
May 1-5, 2012 Benton Harbor
Blossomtime Festival April 29 – May 5. The Blossomtime Festival, which began in 1906 is an annual festival celebrating the agricultural industry in southwest Michigan. It is a multi-community event including 25 communities in southwest Michigan and is the oldest festival in the state. The Grand Floral Parade lasts two hours and has over 100 units, including floats with community queens and their courts, bands, clowns, costumed characters, antique cars and special units. 250,000 spectators come from the Midwest to enjoy this colorful parade which travels from St. Joseph across the river into Benton Harbor. Phone for more details (269) 982-8016, or click here.

Mayfaire Renaissance Festival
May 19-20, 2012 Marshall
The Mayfaire Renaissance Festival in Marshall, MI runs for two full weekends plus Memorial Day: May 19-20 & May 26-28, 2012. Event hours are 10am – 6pm (Open Rain or Shine!) See swordfighting, comedy, jugglers, musicians and shop for unique artisan wares in a beautiful wooded setting. For more information, call (269) 382-6120, or click here.

Saugatuck & Douglas Memorial Day Parades 2012
May 28, 2012, Douglas
Come join us in Saugatuck at 9am and Douglas at 10am for our patriotic Memorial Day Parades. For more information, visit the website link or call (269) 857-1701.

Upper Peninsula

Keweenaw Migratory Bird Festival
May 1-31, 2012 Copper Harbor
This event, held throughout the month of May in Copper Harbor, offers superb daytime birding opportunities and plenty of fun activities for the whole family. There will be programs, speakers, bird walks, guided tours, and much more during the weekends in May. For more information on this event, visit the website link.

West Central

Tulip Time Festival 2012
May 5-12, 2012, Holland
Celebrating over 80 years of culture, heritage and beauty. The Tulip Time Festival is a celebration of Dutch heritage and culture, a multi-generational event that has a little bit of something for everyone including; three amazing parades, multiple Dutch Dance performances, concerts, theatre, Dutch attractions, Dutch food, children’s events, trolley tours and so much more! For more information on this event, visit the link or call us at (800) 822-2770 or (616) 396-4221.

Memorial Day Weekend
May 25-28, 2012, Pentwater
Memorial Day Weekend is the official start of summer, boating, beach, and family time! Come and start off your summer in Pentwater, Michigan. The annual Fishing Derby, Marine Corps League Pancake Breakfast, Annual Plant Sale, and our Pentwater Memorial Day Parade. Come visit us and start your summer off right! For additional information call (231) 869-4150, or click here.

Alma Highland Festival Games
May 26-27, 2012, Alma
Held on the campus of Alma College the last week in May, the Scottish Heritage festival features Old World competition and pageantry at the largest Midwest festival of its kind. For more information, call (989) 463-8979, or click here.

Hudsonville Memorial Day Service
May 28, 2012, Hudsonville
The Hudsonville Memorial Day Service honors the men and women who have so bravely served our country. Join us at 10am at Veteran’s Park in Hudsonville to honor our service men and women. May 28, 2012 at 10am. Veterans Park is located on the corner of 32nd Avenue and Central Boulevard and is adjacent to the City Hall property. For more information call (616) 669-0200 x 411.

From Our Community: “Pure Michigan is …”

What is Pure Michigan to you? Earlier this week, when we asked fans on our Facebook page to finish the sentence “Pure Michigan is …” the feedback was overwhelming.

Our state is many things – a place to enjoy the four seasons, a place to spend time with family and a place we call home.

Here is a round-up of some of our favorite responses.

“where I wanna be this summer!” – Karen Leigh Wampler

“bliss” – Aric Prillwitz

“Home….no place else i would rather be…….” – Maurya Koppen Withrow

“magical” – Derrick Chamberlain

“a place where all my worries disappear and life begins.” – Shanna Stanley

“‎…where we are getting married!! Mackinac Island here we come!!” – Jessi Leahy

“WONDERFUL!!!!!!!!” – Juanita Warrick

“my home that I miss!” – Debbie Leach Christian

“everchanging.” – Elizabeth Girbach Campion

“the best state to live in, the place to be. I’ve lived in many states, Michigan is the best.” – Sue Cova

“Pure beauty!!!” – Mikee Garcia

“where the best fishing in the country is.” – Sean Jenkins

“full of adventure!” – Tammy Reeves

“Pure Michigan is Pure Magic!” – Betty Perrone

“‎…Pure amazing!” – Alex Burns

“four seasons that I would not want to live without. every season has its own beauty.” – Cathy Dudley

“Beautiful woods, lakes, streams and surprises.” – Judy Chasney

“Sunsets and sand dunes.” – Kathryn DeCou

“the true northern experience.” – Stephen Marc

“The changing of seasons each year. Each one special.” – Lynn Criddle

“Is, just that! Pure Michigan!!!” – Marƙ J van Simaeys