Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 9, 2012

Editorial: Moving fest dates may be good


---- — Moving the starting date of the National Cherry Festival a bit earlier in the year could be a good move if it meets some important goals: bringing the Fourth of July into the festival week and making it part of a larger celebration; and giving the Traverse City Film Festival some needed flexibility in scheduling.

And any change that took the Blue Angels our of the Cherry Festival mix would have to be a discussion on its own.

And while they're talking, the Cherry Festival and the city must also work to shorten the time the festival dominates the Open Space, essentially forcing out all other uses and all other users.

In 2012, the festival's impact on the Open Space and Clinch Park stretched to a full 14 days, as has been the case under an agreement with the city that allows five full setup days. Officials walked the site Saturday and Sunday, June 30 and July 1, to mark areas with paint to allow workers to get a quick start, but work to erect tents and fences began Monday, July 2; the last of the infrastructure wasn't gone until Sunday, July 15.

Getting ready is a big task, but taking five full days, when work muscles out everything else, is a lot to ask in our very short summer season.

The city is struggling to find an equitable way to offer precious Open Space time to other users, and having the Cherry Festival essentially consume two full weeks is a lot.

For the Fourth of July, officially incorporating it into the Cherry Festival makes sense. The Fourth has long been an "orphan" of sorts in Traverse City.

When the Cherry Festival started on the first Saturday of July, the Fourth usually fell within Festival week, but not always; when it has been forced to stand on its own is has not fared well; a July 4 parade faded away some time ago. A relatively new group called the Traverse City Boom Boom Club will help the city celebrate July 4 in part by raising money for a Traverse City fireworks show.

Boom Boom Club president Tim Hinkley, who previously ran the cherry festival, said the group welcomes the "synergy" of holding the two events at the same time.

Moving the festival earlier in the year won't have much of an impact on having local cherries available for visitors. In most years the harvest doesn't come until mid-July or so, usually missing the festival completely. Moving it up a weekend will only ensure that local cherries will be even more of a rarity.

City officials say moving the start date up will help put some distance between the Cherry and Film Festivals and help firm up dates for both big festivals several years in advance. Locking in those schedules would help other event planners.

"I think the more planning we put into the process the better we are going to be able to address other events," said Mayor Michael Estes, who serves on a city commission committee studying festival permitting and fees at city parks.

The film festival has said it would like to fit in the last week of July; it is due to start July 30 in 2013.

Estes said two weeks between the major Open Space events should allow the grass time to recover and give neighborhoods a break.

Finally — and crucially — Cherry Festival executive director Trevor Tkach said scheduling will also depend in part on the availability of the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy's aerobatics team, which has performed over West Bay every even-numbered year for a couple decades.

Blue Angels years are the standards by which the Cherry Festival marks attendance (and complaints from residents about the ear-splitting noise), and if moving dates makes them not available, the festival would be remiss to not reconsider the whole thing.

Their presence gave the festival a higher-than-ever profile years ago and kick-started attendance; their absence would have an immediate impact.