By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS, firstname.lastname@example.org
TRAVERSE CITY — Sharon Hall has traveled to Manitoba to see polar bears and to Mexico to see whales. She's rafted and hiked the Grand Canyon — twice.
But there's still something on the Northport grandmother's bucket list: skydiving.
"I'm 74, so I have to hurry," quipped Hall, one of 20 seniors and grandparents who will take the plunge Saturday, Aug. 4, at Woolsey Memorial Airport in Northport.
The Senior Skydive for the Sanctuary is a benefit for Northport's Black Sheep Crossing Farm Animal Sanctuary. The nonprofit sanctuary currently cares for 75 animals from cats, dogs, birds, guinea fowl and peacocks to pot-bellied pigs, cattle, goats, horses, donkeys, a mule, a cow and, of course, a black sheep — actually a lamb.
"He was due to be the main dish at a barbecue," said Cherry Scott, who owns and runs the 100-acre no-kill sanctuary with her husband, Marty.
The farm's annual animal care budget is about $24,000, Scott said. But this year a remodeled chicken coop, an outdoor aviary and a new roof for the equine barn added $20,000 to that figure.
That's where the Senior Skydive comes in. Those who registered to jump agreed to raise $1,000 each in sponsorships that will be donated to the sanctuary.
"What we do here is very unique and unusual, for our area in particular," said Scott, who hosted a meet-the-animals event for the skydivers June 30. "It's just so nice to have the support of not only our immediate community, but the outlying area. We have people skydiving from Williamsburg, Interlochen, Elk Rapids."
The benefit was organized by Lynne Watson, of Traverse City, who made her first jump in 2009 at Cherry Capital Airport. An animal rescuer and Black Sheep Crossing supporter, she got the idea to collect sponsorships for the farm shortly before that jump, raising more than $300 in less than 24 hours. So this year she decided to turn the concept into a fundraiser.
"I knew it was possible to do it and that there were probably a lot of people my age who would be interested in doing it — and that in this area, where there are a lot of fundraisers, it had to be unique," said Watson, 71, who enlisted Skydive Harbor Springs to operate the event. "And it has been attention-grabbing."
Watson said a pair of 87-year-old women and two mother-and-son teams are among those who paid $229 each to jump. Each will free-fall in tandem with a professional skydiver at 120 mph for more than 40 seconds before their parachute opens and floats down from 5,000 feet.
"It's such an adrenaline rush that at the time it's scary and cold, but you don't really feel like you're flying," said Watson, who will jump for a second time. "This time I know what to expect. Once the chute opens and you're floating for seven minutes, that's when you're looking around, seeing things, and can talk with your partner. Then it's quiet."
Hall said she heard about the jump through a neighborhood rumor and then saw an announcement about it in a local paper.
"I thought it was kind of a joke to begin with," she said, adding that she's soliciting sponsorships through emails and a party a Northport inn owner is throwing for 45 of Hall's closest friends. "My daughter in Alabama said, 'Mom, have you lost your mind?' But I'm excited to do this."
Scott believes the benefit jump is the first event of its kind at Woolsey Memorial, which she said is closing to other traffic that morning. She's encouraging locals and visitors to come out and watch, beginning at 8: 30 a.m.
As for herself: "No way am I jumping from an airplane that's perfectly good on the ground. We're going to be the ground crew," she said.
To donate to or sponsor animals at Black Sheep Crossing, contact the Scotts at (231) 386-7234. Farm "wish list" items include gift certificates to Hillside Feed & Supply in Suttons Bay and to McGough's and PetSmart in Traverse City.