TRAVERSE CITY — An eight-day storm called the National Cherry Festival is blowing through Traverse City, propelled by 500,000 people, and Ray Klepper is happy to confront it head-on.
Every year the Union Street resident and his wife host the “Klepper Clapper Club” at their home, where boisterous attendees use wood blocks to cheer on weary, tail-end Cherry Royale Parade participants.
“We get into it,” Klepper said.
Other Traverse City residents tend to batten down the hatches and just try to survive the crowds, noise, parking problems and traffic jams. Elizabeth Whelan, president of the Boardman Neighborhood Association, is among the fest-weary.
"The joke is, if you lived here for a while you try to leave town if possible,” she said. “I think if you live here you realize it’s something you have to live with. No, it’s not anything I’m thrilled with.”
The Cherry Festival can wreak havoc on downtown traffic flow. Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner said North Union Street will be closed throughout Cherry Festival and both Front and Union streets will be closed for parades on July 4 and 6. Officers will be on hand to direct vehicle and foot traffic, but some residents say out-of-towners unfamiliar with the city’s one-way streets and normal traffic flow cause problems aplenty.
Peninsula Township Supervisor Rob Manigold said even Old Mission Peninsula residents expect slower, tourist-infused traffic. Veteran area residents know how to plan accordingly.
"If you live up here, plan on driving about 35 mph into town,” he said. “Just be careful. People will stop in front of you. They’ll slow down because they see something on the side of the road or in the water.”
Rob Bacigalupi, Traverse City’s acting Downtown Development Authority director, said residents should consider alternative transportation options like walking, biking or carpooling. He said downtown bike racks can accommodate 240 bicycles.
"I’ve often enjoyed riding bike between home and work because you often go faster than the cars,” he said.
Don Labadie, owner of Anytime Towing, said his employees have seen cars parked in almost every forbidden spot during Cherry Festival, from residential yards to the middle of parade routes. He said the “worst case scenario” of calling in a tow truck arises often during Cherry Festival and companies can have trouble keeping up with the calls.
“We see a very big spike,” he said. “I would encourage them to try to resolve the problem and to try to locate the individual and get them to remove the vehicle.”
DDA Parking Administrator Dave Malewitz said normal metered parking enforcement will continue through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. About 250 “B” and “T” parking permits are being displaced by the festival’s Midway, but the two downtown parking garages will stay open during Cherry Festival.
Bay Area Transportation Agency business development director Carrie Thompson said downtown commuters and festival visitors alike should take advantage of free park-and-ride shuttles offered again this year. She said riders can park at three different parking lots — Northwestern Michigan College’s Elm lot, the Grand Traverse County Civic Center and Thirlby Field near 14th and Pine streets — and pick up a shuttle bus with hourly stops starting at 8 a.m. and going until 11 p.m.
"We’re hoping to break (last year’s) 5,000 passenger record this year,” she said.
Traverse City resident Jenny Angie said planning ahead is the best solution for enjoying and surviving Cherry Festival. Her son, Judson, 2, likes the parades and other kid-friendly events, but can’t be in crowds too long.
"We don’t plan to be out all day,” she said. “We deal with the crowds and the wait. We pick a few of the year’s favorite events.”
Festival Executive Director Trevor Tkach encouraged residents and visitors to check the event schedule.
"I have encouraged everyone I know that has a smartphone to download the Cherry Festival app,” he said, adding the app is available for both iPhone and Android devices. “It shows all the events. You can actually select the ones you want to go to.”
Angie said the Cherry Festival opens other opportunities by drawing crowds away from beaches and restaurants outside downtown Traverse City.
Ron and Susan Wilkie said events like Cherry Festival are part of the reason they moved to Traverse City in the first place. They don’t mind the noise and crowds.
"It’s a little disruptive, but they’ve been doing it so long they have it down pretty good,” Ron said.