What Not to Miss at the Traverse City Film Festival and National Cherry Festival this July

Summer is festival time in Michigan, and July brings two really big ones to Traverse City: the National Cherry Festival and the Traverse City Film Festival. Everyone has their favorite events, and guest blogger Mike Norton of Traverse City Tourism offers his own personal preferences.

I’m not normally a crowd person — but there are times when I will gladly hang out with thousands of other people.

Ball games, for instance. Oh, and the Junior Royale Parade at the National Cherry Festival.

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Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Now in its 88th year, the Cherry Festival (July 5-12) is Traverse City’s signature event, drawing as many as 500,000 attendees from around the country. And although some of my friends like to huff and puff about how long it lasts and how it snarls up traffic, most of us have events that we never miss if we can help it. I mean, with more than 150 family-friendly activities (air shows, fireworks, parades, games, races, midway rides, demonstrations, banquets and nightly outdoor concerts) it’s hard to avoid having a favorite.

For some, it’s the stunning airshow over Grand Traverse Bay, especially in years like this one when the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels will be the headliners. Even before the Festival officially gets underway, they’ll be giving us a Fourth of July treat, and for the next two days there’ll be free shows in the sky. Some folks will also be excited that this year the  Detroit Red Wings will be holding their annual development camp in Traverse City during Cherry Festival week.

Others love the nightly concerts down along the beach. This year’s lineup includes Collective Soul, Here Come the Mummies, the Bihlman Bros., the Gin Blossoms, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, the Under the Sun Tour (Sugar Ray, Smashmouth, Blues Traveler, and Uncle Kracker), Justin Moore, and Tommy James & The Shondells.

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Everybody has favorites: the marching band competitions, the food tastings, the fireworks, the midway rides, the excursions out to working cherry farms – after all, the Cherry Festival is still our way of celebrating Traverse City’s role as “America’s Cherry Capital.” And for many folks, the Big Event is the huge Cherry Royale Parade held on Saturday afternoon, the last day of the festival – an enormous procession of floats, bands, marching units, clowns and grinning politicians that draws 50,000 spectators each year.

But my favorite parade is a smaller affair, one that takes place on Thursday evening. The Junior Royale Parade is for kids – in fact, someone told me that it may be the largest all-kid parade in the country. Hundreds of youngsters make their way down the Traverse City streets, marching along, steering their decorated bikes and trikes, leading their reluctant pets, riding on their lovingly constructed school floats or dozing in their baby buggies.

Maybe it’s the early evening atmosphere, so cool and dreamy and filled with just-after-dinner contentment. Maybe it’s the earnest wholesomeness of the whole adventure. But when I’m sitting at the curb during the Junior Royale watching those kids go by, I feel a connection to a sweeter, less frantic time and place. I remember the sights, sounds and smells of summer celebrations when I was a kid – the kind of memories I hope my own kids have, the kind of memories that we should hold on to.

The other thing I’ve always loved about the Cherry Festival is that most of it’s available to ordinary working people. Everything is located within walking distance, and since almost all the events are free, it offers more than a week of affordable family fun. I think that’s one reason why it’s been listed among USA Today’s top ten festivals for several years running.

Traverse City Film Festival – July 29th – August 3rd

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Founded in 2005, the Traverse City Film Festival has been able to lure movie buffs away from the beaches and golf courses with an outstanding selection of independent, foreign, and documentary films, as well as premieres, parties, panel discussions and lectures about the world of film.

Most events are held near downtown — at the vintage State Theatre, the brand-new Bijou by the Bay theatre in Clinch Park, the City Opera House, and the Old Town Playhouse – but there are also free family movies shown each night on a huge inflatable outdoor screen at Open Space Park , on the shore of West Grand Traverse Bay. (Guess what – my favorite part!)

If you’re any type of a movie-watcher, most of these will be films you’ve already seen – probably more than once. But that’s not the point. It’s really about watching a movie while sitting on a blanket on the grass, surrounded by other folks. In fact, to keep the whole thing community-based, the Film Festival folks routinely ask participants what films they’d like to see on the big Friday night movie. This year, it’ll be “Star Wars.” Other free films this year are “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” “Casablanca,” “The Goonies,” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

The Film Festival is a “weatherproof” summer event that allows participants to sample from a broad menu of film screenings and other events at any time of day or evening. Since most of the events are concentrated in Traverse City’s compact downtown area, there’s a multitude of shopping and dining options close at hand. (Plus, there’s the added thrill of meeting up with a movie star or two out on the street during Festival Week!)

Other than the nightly films on the grass at the Open Space, most events during the Film Festival aren’t free – but they’re not unreasonably priced, either. Regular movies are $10, and sneak previews are $15. Around here we like to say that it “brings a little Hollywood to Traverse City!”

IMG_2782 copy - CopyMike Norton spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations manager at Traverse City Tourism. An avid cyclist, kayaker and hiker, he lives in the village of Old Mission.

Eight Reasons to Get Out and Explore Michigan’s Waterfalls this Summer

Today, Michigan-based photographer John McCormick shares some visually compelling reasons to get out and explore Michigan’s many rushing waterfalls this summer.

If you’re looking for things to do in Michigan this summer, try exploring some beautiful waterfalls. This will be a great year for it! The heavy snow and below average temperatures this past winter have resulted in fast flowing rivers and raging waterfalls all across Upper Michigan this spring. My wife and I and our three boys have been exploring and photographing these gems for over 30 years and the ones mentioned here are a few of our favorites.

Some of the waterfalls are easy to find and easy to access, while others require a little more effort.  The most popular waterfall to see is Tahquamenon, and it is also one of the easiest to access. There are two drops – the upper and lower. The upper falls are more than 200 feet across and plunge approximately 48 feet. Both of these waterfalls are within the Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and this area has some of the best camping in Michigan.

Tahquamenon Falls - Michigan Nut Photography

Tahquamenon Falls – Michigan Nut Photography

One of the more remote waterfalls to see is Spray Falls in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This one is about a three mile round trip hike, starting from the trail-head at Little Beaver Lake campground. It is rated a moderate hike. Spray Falls plunges 70ft over the Pictured Rocks cliff edge directly into Lake Superior. This stretch of hiking trail is one of the most spectacular hikes in Michigan. See our Pictured Rocks gallery.

Spray Falls - Michigan Nut Photography

Spray Falls – Michigan Nut Photography

Another easy to access waterfall ‘and fun to photograph’, is Wagner Falls, just South of Munising, Michigan. It’s a beautiful scenic spot, and just a short walk through the woods. If you visit this one in the springtime, you will see Marsh Marigolds blooming along the edges of the creek just below the falls. It makes for a pretty picture! As a side trip while in the area, head over to Miners Beach just West of Munising and see the little but very picturesque, Elliot Falls, aka Miners Beach Falls.

Wagner Falls - Michigan Nut Photography

Wagner Falls – Michigan Nut Photography

Elliot Falls - Michigan Nut Photography

Elliot Falls – Michigan Nut Photography

Moving on from Wagner falls on M94 heading South and West you will find the little town of Chatham, MI,  which is about 25 miles from Munising. Near Chatham, is Rock River Falls. This waterfall is hidden in the Rock River Wilderness Area. Getting to it involves driving on some old logging roads and then hiking a mile or so through the forest on some ‘not so well marked’ trails, but if you are looking for a back-country waterfall adventure, this one is for you. Also, Just a few miles West of Chatham, is Laughing Whitefish Falls. It’s another easily accessible waterfall and a beautiful area of the Rock River Wilderness.

Rock River Falls - Michigan Nut Photography

Rock River Falls – Michigan Nut Photography

Laughing Whitefish Falls - Michigan Nut Photography

Laughing Whitefish Falls – Michigan Nut Photography

Farther West in Upper Michigan near Paulding, Michigan, is Bond Falls. This one has it all. Easy to access, wheelchair accessible, and one of the most spectacular to see. Don’t forget to get some ice cream at the Paulding General Store, or maybe look for the “Paulding Lights”. People have reported seeing these mysterious lights for 40 years.

Bond Falls - Michigan Nut Photography

Bond Falls – Michigan Nut Photography

One more waterfall I will mention, that gets little attention, is Ocqueoc Falls near Onaway, Michigan. This is the only recognized waterfall in Michigan’s lower peninsula. You can hike the Ocqueoc Falls Pathway that starts here and runs along the river. Also at the falls area there is a picnic area with tables and grills. This area is also wheelchair accessible.

Oqeuoc Falls - Michigan Nut Photography

Oqeuoc Falls – Michigan Nut Photography

I could go on and list many, many more waterfalls to see. I do highly recommend visiting my Michigan waterfalls gallery to see over a hundred photos my favorite shots taken over many years of travels.

John McCormickJohn McCormick is a lifelong Michigan resident and has been interested in Michigan Nature Photography for over 30 years. Michigan is a beautiful place to live and photographing that beauty is his absolute passion. Check out more from John on his Michigan Nut Photography Facebook page or on his website.

Nine Things You Might Not Have Known About The Soo Locks

Engineer’s Weekend in Sault Ste. Marie is June 27 – 28, 2014. This last weekend in June has something for everyone, including boat races, spectacular vistas and the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the great Soo Locks.

Photo courtesy of Sault Ste. Marie Convention and Visitor's Bureau

Photo courtesy of Sault Ste. Marie Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

Check out these nine interesting facts about the Soo Locks to inspire your visit from Sault Ste. Marie Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. A man-made marvel and the busiest lock system in the world, by cargo tonnage, yes the Soo Locks! On average, between seven and ten thousand ships come through the locks during the shipping season each year.  Built in 1855, these locks connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron and beyond.  We have repeat visitors every season; they call themselves Boat Nerds, that watch ships from all over the world use this free lock system.  Now here are some facts about the locking system and the St. Mary’s River. $500.4 Billion value attributed to the iron ore shipped through the Soo Locks each year. An average of 80 million tons of cargo moves through them each year. 7,000 passages each year – Crews at the Soo Locks complete these lockages during the 42- week- long navigations season. They are open 24 hours a day.  Can you take your personal boat through the locks? Yes, as long as you have permission from the lockmaster. 2,342 miles- ships from all over the world visit this port as the locks are a part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, which connects Duluth, Minnesota to the Atlantic! 22 Million gallons of water to lift a boat. The locks are powered by gravity itself!  Water moves in and out of the lock chambers by just opening and closing valves. 1000 foot boats- There are 13-1000 footers on the Great Lakes, and the largest boat that comes through the Soo Locks is the Paul R. Tregurtha, coming in at 1013 feet which is larger than three football fields! The first vessels on the great lakes were 40 foot-long canoes.

Mikel B Classen

Photo courtesy of Mikel B Classen via Sault Ste. Marie CVB

9 hours between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, it takes a freighter about nine hours to pass through the St. Mary’s River system 21 foot drop- A thick layer of bedrock holds back the waters of Lake Superior where it joins the St. Mary’s River. This drop prevented boats from passing through. This reddish sandstone lines most of Lake Superior southern shores and is about 1000 feet-thick.   The Fairbanks Scale Company, which is still in business today, built the first permanent lock, State Lock. 3-4 cents per ton- From 1855 to 1881, this was the toll, but today it is free. The propeller in Soo Locks Park is from a steamer named the Independence, which exploded just northwest of today’s locks.  One crewman is said to have survived a trip down the rapids on a hay bale from the ship. Now that you know more about the Soo Locks, come and visit us during Engineer’s Weekend, when you can go into the locks and get up close and personal with this engineering marvel!  Engineer’s Day is always the last Friday in June, which is June 27th this year. See what Engineer’s Weekend is all about in the video below.  Have you been to the Soo Locks? Tell us about your experience!