Best. Cherry Fest. Ever.
The Top 10 Must-dos to Take Your Cherry Fest Experience Over the Top
By Ross Boissoneau | June 23, 2018
OK, sure, there’s fireworks, perfect for ooohs and ahhhhs. We know about the Blue Angels and the air show. There are concerts, parades, and don’t forget the Great American Duck Race. Or the Cherry Pie Eating Contest. Well, maybe forget the pie-eating contest, because you want to enjoy things without a belly ache.
Those are all among the most-loved events at the National Cherry Festival. Yet we ask ourselves, what other aspects of this great festival celebrating our favorite fruit make the list of essential items? So here’s our Top Ten. Others’ Top Ten will vary by user, but try these on for size:
1. Put a Pie in Your Pie Hole
First of all, it is the National Cherry Festival. So hunker down with a slice of cherry crumb pie, the signature pie of the festival, courtesy Grand Traverse Pie Company. Guaranteed calorie-free during the eight days of the festival. But you can’t have it without ice cream. That’s a rule, according to our anonymous source.*
*Kat Paye, executive director of the National Cherry Festival.(Who are we to argue?)
2. See Your Mini Me Bake a Mini Pie
Keeping it pieful (pie-esque?), the Kids Make and Bake takes place Thursday, July 5, from 10 to 4 at the Open Space. Kids ages 2 to 12 are welcome to join the fun and learn how to make a mini cherry crumb pie from the bakers at the Grand Traverse Pie Company. The kids make the pie, then it can be baked on-site, or they can take the pie home to bake it. This event is scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. It fills up fast, so get there early to sign up. While there is no cost for this event, a $3 donation is suggested; all proceeds benefit the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center.
3. Embrace the Hi-Carb, Hi-Fat Lifestyle
OK, an obvious one, but hey, how ’bout those Gibby’s fries? Long a festival favorite, the delicious take on French fries can’t be topped. Except maybe with a little salt and ketchup. Or some vinegar. Perhaps some cheese. But not chili, no, not a chance. Despite what some may say, adding chili is a bad idea. After all, your don’t want to obscure or overwhelm the flavor of these freshly cooked spuds. Not after their special multi-step frying process produces the perfect amount of crunch on the outside. Get ’em while they’re hot!
4. Rub Orange Elbows
Yes, every year the Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds and their ilk showcase their abilities in the air. But at the U.S. Coast Guard Open Ramp, you get a chance to get up close and personal with the pilots (aerial team included), personnel, and aircraft that keeps us safe on and around the Great Lakes. This is one of the few times the Coast Guard Air Station is open to the public, and it has become one of the festival’s most popular events, drawing thousands of people. It takes place Friday, June 29, from 5:30pm to 8pm, and it’s free of charge. Parking is limited, and BATA offers a free shuttle service from Munson Community Health Center at 550 Munson Avenue (that’s the former Osteopathic Hospital for you old-timers). And did we mention that it’s free?
5. Get With the Bands
Back from its one-year hiatus, the Cherryland Band Classic takes place Friday, July 6. Opening ceremonies begin at 6:30pm, introducing the 2018 National Cherry Festival Princes & Princesses, with the first of six bands beginning at 7pm. Last year only three bands signed up, so the event was reluctantly canceled by the Cherry Festival, in hopes that more bands could be persuaded to perform this year. Looks like it worked, as five bands from Wisconsin and one from Minnesota will be on hand to showcase polish, percussion, and precision.
6. Raise Your Heart Rate
For those about to run, we salute you. There are a host of races associated with the National Cherry Festival. Let’s pick two: the Cherry Kids Fun Run and the Chateau Grand Traverse Half Marathon. The former is a one-mile fun run with the Boston Marathon winner. It takes place Thursday, July 5, just before the Touchstone Energy Junior Royale Parade. Participants receive an official race bib, a medal, and refreshment.
The Half Marathon wraps up the Meijer Festival of Races. Runners take their mark and go! at 7am Saturday, July 7. One of the most picturesque race routes anywhere, it begins in the vineyards overlooking West Grand Traverse Bay and runs through cherry orchards, with your typical breathtaking Traverse City views along the shoreline to the downtown finish. Or if you’re not sure you want to put all that energy into it, you can always watch.
7. Swing Your Stick, Win A Brand New Car
Not every Cherry Festival event takes place downtown, or even in just one place. If you’ve been working on your swing, test it out at Bay Meadows or Grand Traverse Resort and see if you can qualify for the finals of the Hole-in-One contest. The contest runs all week, June 30 to July 6, from 4 to 8pm. The 14 players who are closest to the pin (seven from each course) qualify for the final shootout from 176 yards at Bay Meadows, slated for Saturday, July 7.
Daily prizes will be awarded to the player closest to the pin that day, and prizes will be awarded to winners in the final shootout. And should you drop it in the cup in the final shootout, you win a car!
8. Remember — and Get Smart — About What it’s All About
If you want to know more about the signature fruit of northern Michigan, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. And the perfect place is at the Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center. Every day, Monday through Friday, you can visit a 100-acre research orchard in Leelanau County operated by Michigan State University Extension. The guided orchard tours showcase cherries in all their glory. For the adults there is information on the ways technology is helping farmers, as well as exhibits and samples of the newest cherry products. For the kids there are all sorts of fun experiences, including a petting zoo, hands-on experiments, a poster coloring contest and other activities. Just don’t tell them it’s educational. The shuttle to Orchard Tour & More will depart every half hour from 9:30 am to 11:30 am from Traverse City Tourism.
9. Take Tea with Your Teddy
Call her a romantic or a kid at heart, but Paye looooves the Teddy Bear Tea Party. “I don’t think I’ve missed one since its inception ten years ago,” she said. Kids of all ages are invited to bring their teddy bear (Paye’s is named Butterscotch, and she made him at the Cherry Festival years ago) and a blanket for an afternoon in the park. Enjoy storytelling and an afternoon tea party with other teddy bears and kids. And there’s no age limit – parents are welcome. It all takes place at F&M Park from 3:30 to 5 on Sunday, July 1.
10. Stock Up on the Fest’s Famous Fruit (in All of its Incarnations)
And finally, what’s a cherry festival without — wait for it — a cherry farm market? The Open Space hosts a farm market where they tuck, fold, staple and include cherries in anything and everything imaginable. Vendors include Six Luggs, Gallagher’s, Benjamin Twiggs, Edmonson’s Orchard, Cherry Connection, Naturally Nutty, Sweet and Sour USA, Deerings, Herkner’s Farm and Harper View Lavender Farm. Yes, they let lavender in, all in the name of diversity.
But wait, there’s more. Watch the Blue Angels from a kayak in the bay. Hit the Bingo Tent and the Beer Tent. Jump on the Ferris Wheel for the best view of Traverse City. And look out, because Here Come the Mummies — there’s really too much fun to stop at 10.