By Vanessa McCray
TRAVERSE CITY — The National Cherry Festival will start next year's traditional summertime event in June.
The 2013 festival will run June 29 through July 6, enveloping the July 4 holiday and occurring a week before the event's customary start on the first Saturday in July. The new schedule means Independence Day falls within the eight-day long cherry festivities and accommodates Traverse City officials' desire to move the festival earlier in the summer.
Trevor Tkach, executive director of the National Cherry Festival, said city and cherry officials talked about festival dates and the June start "seemed like it was in the best interest of the city."
"When we had the meeting with the city, it was clear that they would prefer to have the festival during the 4th," he said. "We listened openly, and we want to make sure that we want to maintain a good relationship."
The cherry festival hasn't committed to dates beyond next year, and it's unknown how the cherry change might affect the Traverse City Film Festival, the city's other big summer event.
During this year's film festival, organizers announced the 2013 movie marathon would be held July 30 through Aug. 4. Executive Director Deb Lake said there's interest in moving the film festival earlier to fit in the last week of July, but no decision has been made.
"We're looking into the possibility of changing our dates, but we have already booked guests for next year," she said.
Mayor Michael Estes said the city wants to create distance between Open Space events and firm up dates for both big festivals several years in advance. Locking in schedules for the cherry and film festivals would assist other potential park event planners, he said.
"I think the more planning we put into the process the better we are going to be able to address other events," said Estes, who serves on a city commission committee studying festival permitting and fees at city parks.
Moving the film festival earlier would give its volunteers, many of whom are educators, a longer break before school starts, he said. Two weeks between the major Open Space events also should allow the grass time to recover.
"We'll never satisfy everybody all the time. I think that sort of little gap in there would be appreciated by a lot of the neighborhoods," Estes said.
Including Independence Day within the cherry festival week makes sense, Tkach said. The customary scheduling model meant that some years visitors vacationing during July 4 saw tents set up for the festival but not yet in use.
"It's not necessarily the message that you want to send to people," he said. "That is pretty confusing to the customer."
Next year's cherry festival set-up will begin June 24, and the festival will work with the Traverse City Boom Boom Club to celebrate July 4. The club raises money for a Traverse City fireworks show and welcomes the "synergy" of holding the two events at the same time, said club President Tim Hinkley, who previously ran the cherry festival.
"I don't think in the big scheme of things it's that big of a change," Hinkley said. "It just makes sense that we would work with the cherry festival."
There's a host of potential ways an earlier cherry festival could impact the community, from the tourism business to cherry farmers. Cherry crops are difficult to predict, Tkach said, but he doesn't think the date shift is significant enough to affect the availability of fresh, local cherries.
The June start could prompt summer tourism to begin a little earlier, said Brad Van Dommelen, of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. He doesn't know what the impact might be to overlap cherry festival and Independence Day celebrations "as opposed to spreading it out."
Scheduling future cherry festivals will depend partly on the Blue Angels' availability. The popular air show participants didn't make it to this year's festival because of a scheduling conflict. Tkach said the Blue Angels will release 2014 dates in December.
"We are optimistic, of course, that we get back in on their even-year rotation," he said. "They've made overtures that would lead you to believe that they do plan on coming back."