By MICHELLE MERLIN
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Ally Gilbreath paused for a moment before she stepped off a platform more than 35 feet in the air.
Then a whoosh through the bracing cold and then back to earth.
“I was scared when I was at the top,” Ally, 13, said of the new zip line at the Traverse City Comedy Arts Festival. But she went right back at it, and so did her sister, Katie, 9, who smiled as she sped across the line.
The zipline was one of the new, free activities on Front Street at this year’s festival. The festivities extended further along the downtown’s main artery this year, which allowed for more family fun, including a Ferris wheel, mini-golf, an ice rink and a sledding hill.
“It’s something to do on a Saturday when you have cabin fever,” said Janell Callahan, a Traverse City resident.
The activities were so popular that lines snaked around the street much of the day.
“We wanted to have some fun as a family,” said Kelly Olson, a Traverse City resident who waited with her husband and two children for the Ferris wheel.
The carnival ride is a favorite for the Turner family of South Boardman.
“We came outside because it was nice out,” Amanda Turner said, while she watched her children, Liam, 4, and Tristan, 6.
Dogs were just as likely to be bundled up as kids. Jack, Callahan’s miniature pinscher, was able to enjoy the festivities from his owner’s arms, at least until he was entered into a race.
Barking blended with human voices, especially in the morning, when many canine companions competed in the Monster Dog Pull.
Man’s four-legged friends dragged a weighted sled across a length of snow.
Comedian Fred Willard resurrected his role in the cult comedy Best In Show and offered commentary at the event, during which some of the dogs veered off course.
“I don’t know if he was in the army, but they teach them to zigzag,” Willard said.
Viewers didn’t seem to mind that the dogs hadn’t had much practice.
“I liked watching the dog pull. It was nice seeing all the different types of dogs,” said Spencer Kaastra, 11, who was in town from Maple City to visit his grandmother, Ellen Golec.
Marlee Smith, 8, wanted to enter the family dog in the race, her mom Kelly said.
“Our dog likes to drag us over the snow anyway,” she said.
Once she came downtown, Marlee’s favorite activity was the zipline.
A mini-golf course was another new addition to the festival. Gleaming ice sculptures created transparent obstacles for the golfers.
“Both the adults and kids love the golf, and they love the sculptures. It’s a chance for everybody to have a photo op,” said Frank Bennett, a Traverse City resident who volunteered to man the course.
Sharon Manahan, from Indiana, visited Traverse City and was pleasantly surprised to find a festival underway.
“This is so neat. The ice sculptures are awesome and the zipline is cool,” Manahan said.
Traverse City’s signature cherry had the spotlight at Grand Traverse Pie Company, where kids learned to bake their own cherry pies.
“It was fun,” said CJ Upham, 9, of Traverse City. “The best part is when you get to eat it.”
Temperatures that stayed in the teens provided a boost to local businesses. Momentum, a store that sells warm clothing, sold out of hats and gloves by Saturday morning and had to refer people to buy scarves and earmuffs instead.
Stacy Crawford, the store’s supervising manager, said sales increase every year.
“I feel like it’s because there’s so much going on, especially events like this where they use the street,” Crawford said.