TRAVERSE CITY — Trevor Tkach watched scores of events come and go at the National Cherry Festival since he was tabbed to be an elementary school festival prince in 1984.
Today he’s the festival’s executive director, and he predicts many more to come.
But festival officials won’t be ridding themselves of pie-eating and cherry pit-spitting contests.
Those festival stalwarts are off-limits to change, said Tkach, in response to recent comments from Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes, who broadly suggested the festival is in need of a facelift.
Estes said the festival needs to be more event-driven — similar to the Traverse City Film Festival -- and questioned whether pit-spitting, pie-eating and the carnival midway should stick around.
“A lot of this stuff, I think the public is getting tired of it,” Estes said.
But Tkach said pit-spitting and pie-eating continue to draw large numbers of participants, as does the midway. Video of pie-eating contests attract national television exposure almost every year.
Estes’ comments apparently stung like a glove slap -- a gentle slap, perhaps -- across Tkach’s face, based on his response.
“I challenge Mayor Estes to a pie-eating, pit-spitting contest any day of the week,” Tkach said. “He needs to come down and have some fun with me.”
About 85 percent of the events put on by the Cherry Festival are free, and by design, Tkach said. The festival promotes both the cherry industry and the overall community as a tourist destination. Plenty of grousing from locals seems to precede the festival every year, but the event garners great local participation and the support of more than 2,000 community volunteers.
“This is an awesome festival, one of the largest in the nation and we need to be proud of that,’ Tkach said.