Pie, Parades and More at the 2013 National Cherry Festival in Traverse City

The National Cherry Festival brings more than 500,000 people to Traverse City, Michigan each year. This year the celebration returns from June 29 – July 6 with music, parades, entertainment and – of course – cherries galore! Today, Susan Wilcox Olson, media and marketing manager for the festival, fills us in on what to expect at the 2013 event.

The Grand Traverse region, known for its world-record tart cherry harvest, bursts with visitors eager to savor the flavor of cherries tucked into everything imaginable. Each day festival goers find cherry delights along with parades, family and kids events and entertainment. In all, there are more than 130 events along the shores of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay.  In fact, the National Cherry Festival was just featured in Wall Street Journal Weekend – naming it one of just a dozen Festivals not to be missed this season!  And travel to the Cherry Capital of the World is easy with direct flights to the Cherry Capitol Airport (TVC) from NYC, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Minneapolis.  There’s convenient one stop service from every corner of the country, Europe and Asia!

The eight-day event will kick off on Saturday, June 29th at 9 a.m. with a Very Cherry Pancake Breakfast – one of the world’s largest displays of cherries, all bay side!  Then Festival goers will look to the skies and witness one of the nation’s most spectacular Air Shows…over water!  Choreographed perfectly, three dynamic teams will perform maneuvers wowing Festival goers of all ages!  There’s a new twist to the Festival Air Show…A NIGHT FLIGHT!  On Saturday evening at dusk, you won’t want to miss the first ever Night Air Show in Pure Michigan!  Pyrotechnics and lights will fill the skies!

Performing on the Bay Side Music Stage Opening Night is the legendary rock band STYX!  In the heart of downtown Traverse City, overlooking the shores of the Bay it’s a not be missed night of fun!  In fact, the Bay Side Music Stage will be rockin’ all eight days with performances by Country music star, Montgomery Gentry, Sunday, June 30th; Foreigner on Monday, July 1st; Blues legend Duke Tumatoe & The Power Trio on Tuesday, July 2; Country Music returns on Wednesday, July 3rd with Aaron Tippin and Michigan native Jana Kramer.  Fourth of July will pay tribute to the legendary Central Park 4th of July performance by Simon and Garfunkel – a Tribute Band Old Friends will perform just before Fireworks over West Grand Traverse Bay.  Friday night Rock returns with Edgar Winter and Rusted Root.  While closing night will feature The Tribute – 1964, paying tribute to the Beatles.

There’s something for just about everyone!  From dozens of free children’s events, cherry pie eating, pet shows, bicycle and big wheel races to name just a few, to competitive sporting events like the Million Dollar Hole-in-One contest all week to one of America’s most beautiful 15K Running Races.  In-fact on closing day Saturday, July 6th the race finishes its last leg along the parade route of the DTE Energy Cherry Royale Parade, with tens of thousands spectators!

Beyond the 130 events, visitors will find cherries in just about everything at the Festival’s Farm Market all week long.  From the Festival’s Signature Cherry Pie – Grand Traverse Pie Company’s Cherry Crumb Pie and Brownwood Farms’ cherry topped sundaes to gourmet products like cherry salsa, cherry mustard, cherry butter, and cherry BBQ sauce – it’s all here!

Don’t miss the world’s largest cherry extravaganza!  Visit www.cherryfestival.org or check out the interview below for details!

Susan Wilcox Olson is Media and Marketing Manager for the National Cherry Festival.  For 26 years Susan has been serving up Michigan lifestyle stories to readers, listeners, and viewers across the country and internationally.  From the National Cherry Festival, Cherry Capital Airport, Grand Traverse Pie Company, and other Pure Michigan destinations like the golf centric Gaylord and Treetops Resort, Susan is proud to call Pure Michigan her home. She may be reached by email at susan@cherryfestival.org.

Will you be at the Cherry Festival in Traverse City? Share with us below, and learn more at michigan.org.

Out On the Water in Traverse City

Maybe it was his landlubberly upbringing, but it took writer Mike Norton quite a while to stop thinking of the water as “forbidden territory” and start thinking of it as a big blue playground. Now, after 35 years as a resident of Traverse City, he loves to get out on Grand Traverse Bay in almost any way he can.

I first came to Traverse City to be near the water. That’s not surprising, I guess; so do thousands of other people.

Water, after all, is what defines this place. It’s the beautiful backdrop for our family photos, the sparkling blue boundary to our beaches, the ever-changing spectacle that mesmerizes us at sunrise and sunset and all the hours in between.

Pretty? Of course it is. But beauty is really only half the story — because I’ve learned that once you venture out on its shimmering surface, the water becomes more than part of the scenery. It becomes a highway to adventure.

With more than 150 inland lakes and hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, Traverse City has always attracted active vacationers who enjoy interacting with water – whether that means sailing, boating, kayaking, fishing, or high-speed sports from waterskiing to kiteboarding. The reason?  Grand Traverse Bay, a two-pronged “freshwater fjord” that’s sheltered on three sides from the wind and waves that can make the open waters of Lake Michigan too intimidating for many novices.

Kayaking Lake Michigan near the Sleeping Bear Dunes

Probably the quickest way to get out on the water is in a canoe or kayak. Long a favorite canoe destination, the area has become hugely popular with kayakers in recent years. Today almost every coastal community in the Traverse City area has at least one canoe/kayak rental outlet, and there are several full-service outfitters who offer instruction and guiding services. (And take it from me, it doesn’t take long to learn!)

I love paddling effortlessly down a tree-shaded river without a care in the world, or heading out along the beach in a sturdy kayak. Most of our rivers are tame enough for novice paddlers, with just enough current to keep things interesting, and today’s kayaks are made for people of every age and aptitude. Just pack some sunscreen and a shore lunch — and don’t forget your camera!

Jet-skiing on Grand Traverse Bay

For those who are looking for something a bit different, stand-up paddleboarding is one of the recent crazes on our lakes and harbors. Instead of sitting on a board, you stand up – getting great views of your surroundings, including the watery depths beneath your feet! SUP’ing is great fun, wonderful exercise, and easy to learn, and there are plenty of places to rent a board if you don’t already own one.

As long as we’re on the subject of boards, Traverse City has long been a major destination for kiteboarding, where you harness the wind to pull you across the water on a small surfboard. This takes some instruction– which can fortunately be acquired in a few hours – but using a special kite and a control harness, you can really move, skimming across the lake and launching 30-foot jumps over the waves!

There are easier ways to speed across the water of course. Jet skis and other personal watercraft can be rented at several location around Traverse City – and although they’re faster than ever, they’re a far cry from the noisy, smelly, uncomfortable machines of the past. Today’s personal watercraft are actually more like small speedboats, a useful way to get from one place to another. (And yes, to have a lot of fun buzzing up and down the shore.)

Sailboats on Grand Traverse Bay

Of course, the proliferation of all these boards and machines doesn’t mean there aren’t still lots of regular boats on the water in Traverse City. Flocks of sailboats are always winging up and down the Bay in breezy weather, and there are plenty of powerboats, too – usually towing water-skiers or heading out to do a little fishing. If fishing is your private passion, this is the perfect place – whether it’s battling a high-powered salmon from the deck of a charter boat or outwitting the wily walleye and smallmouth bass of our inland lakes.

And for those who prefer their excitement a little more organized, how about a sunset cruise in a 19th-century “tall ship” or an exhilarating ride over the waves aboard a giant catamaran?

Undoubtedly, the most easily recognized vessel in the Traverse City fleet is the Tall Ship Manitou, a 114-foot, 62-passenger schooner that offers three two-hour cruises across the bay each day of the week, as well as a number of specialty cruises (a Microbrew & Pizza Cruise, a Wine Tasting Cruise, musical cruises and “ice cream sails”). And now the Manitou has a little brother, the cutter Scout, that’s available for small-group cruises of up to six people.

An even livelier sailing experience can be had aboard the Nauti-Cat, a 47-foot catamaran based near the mouth of the Boardman River. Measuring 29 feet from side to side, it offers up to four cruises per day during the summer months, often cruising as fast as 14 knots on a breezy day.

Can you tell how eager I am to get back out on the water?

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 kayaker and an enthusiastic (if somewhat clumsy) small-boat sailor, he lives in the village of Old Mission.